This post is targeted to church leaders with no experience with Pokemon Go, but hoping to engage the gaming community on some level.
To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.
– 1 Cor 9:20
Since July, you may have noticed kids loitering in your church parking lot. Cars circle the parking lot erratically, and there’s litter to pick up every morning. Congratulations, your church is a hot spot for Pokemon Go!
Getting people to come to church is like pulling teeth. But thanks to Pokemon Go, people are now coming to your church parking lot every night, even when there’s no service. Pokemon Go players (trainers) probably know the name and location of every church in your neighborhood. This opens up a unique window of opportunity for ministry and outreach.
“He brings people to your door,
And you turn them away”
– Keith Green
How Pokestops work
In order to play Pokemon Go, you throw these balls to catch creatures. You run out of balls pretty quickly. You could buy more, but in general you have to physically go out and collect more.
A Pokestop gives you a handful of items — balls, potions, revives. You can spin a Pokestop once every few minutes. So it’s more efficient to go to an area with several Pokestops.
Pokestops are limited to unique public points of interest. This includes churches, parks, graveyards, sculptures, and pavilions. But this excludes retail stores and schools (no playing during class!). You can assume every church has a Pokestop (or gym).
This means if you’re in the suburbs and your church parking lot has five Pokestops, you’re probably very popular!
A church parking lot with a loop of Pokestops is my new jogging path.
There’s a church parking lot near my condo with 7 Pokestops and 3 gyms nearby. I jog the loop every morning picking up a bag’s worth of litter. Although, I stopped when school started, and a dozen vultures have since taken over the picnic pavilion.
How to help trainers
There’s a few things a church can do to enhance the game experience for trainers.
Lures can be placed on a Pokestop to increase the concentration of Pokemon.
Lures can be seen from a distance. It looks like pink confetti is falling, as if a party were going on. Lures benefit everyone within its range.
Pro tip: if you have two Pokestops very close to one another, lure both of them. The effect stacks when they overlap.
A lure costs a dollar, and lasts half an hour. So trainers generally try to take advantage whenever someone puts up a lure nearby.
As a church, you can observe the foot traffic patterns, and time when to lure up your Pokestops. For my neighborhood, it’s busiest right after work.
Consider opening a separate public wifi and advertise it with a corrugated plastic sign. Trainers can google things and maybe watch YouTube to pass the time without chewing through their data plan.
If you have staff on hand, you can open up the facility for trainers to escape the weather, wash hands, or use the restroom.
Try to keep your parking lot lit around the clock. I’ve been to this one church with a lot of stops but it was completely dark. Scary!
If you see a lot of trash on the floor, consider installing an outdoor trash can. Or rally some volunteers to help with litter removal. Everyone appreciates a clean, vulture-free parking lot.
What NOT to do: The city of Houston asked Niantic to remove the Pokestops at Discovery Green because of the increased trash removal expenses. This is not the best way to win over the hearts and minds of your community.
If you’re seeing a lot of foot traffic, maybe you can try selling merchandise. Not necessarily for profit. But maybe as a service, and an excuse to engage people in conversation.
- Lipstick chargers (pre-charged) and Amazon Basics USB cables
- Umbrellas on a rainy day
- Spray sunblock, bug spray, or free samples of it
- Candy/snacks (bake sale?)
- Gum/mints/tissues/lotion/hand sanitizer
Don’t sink a lot of cash into inventory though. The game’s popularity has cooled off a bit since its launch.
Niantic is constantly tweaking what type of Pokemon show up in specific areas. If you have those lures going regularly, you could start seeing some rare Pokemon.
Consider creating a Twitter account for the Pokestop in front of your church, and advertise it with a corrugated plastic sign. Staff members can tweet a screenshot when they see a Snorlax, Dratini, or Pikachu (ask any teenager in your congregation for a list of rare Pokemon). Trainers can also mention you in a tweet when they see something interesting too.
The community benefits by getting a sense of the type and frequency of rare Pokemon on your property. And you can build an audience for special fundraising/outreach events. For example: “Free cold coffee this Sat. AM. Bring 💰 for bake sale items. #lureParty”
Work together with other churches
Not every church is going to be a Pokemon Go hotspot.
It would be nice to see area churches come together and support the one church with heavy foot traffic. Maybe donate money and volunteers. It’s a good excuse to open up communication.
Outreach and ministry
As church leaders, ministry is your wheelhouse, so I’ll leave this up to you to figure out.
One thing I do appreciate is how friendly church leaders have been, even though as a group we’re littering, loitering, and taking your free balls.
This game is pretty addictive, I admit. So trainers need all the prayer they can get! Pray for their safety, especially protection from car accidents which can be a real danger.
These are just ideas and ramblings on my part. If you tried anything, let me know how it turned out in the comments below!