Gotta catch 'em all! Churches pull out the stops to lure in Pokémon gamers

22 July 2016

Cemetery Club

Odd places: A figure in Nunhead Cemetery, south London

Odd places: A figure in Nunhead Cemetery, south London

CHURCHES are being urged to climb aboard the Pokémon Go bandwagon, as the game soars in popularity across the UK.

Last week, just hours after the game became available in the UK, the Church of England’s digital media officer, Tallie Proud, published a blog on how churches could use the wildly successful app to evangelise gamers.

Pokémon Go is based on catching Pokémon, animated monsters that first became popular in the 1990s, using the GPS system on a smartphone or tablet, and then battling with them against other players.

Real-life locations and points of interest, including churches, have been designated by programmers as “PokéStops”, or “Gyms”, where gamers can collect resources and fight to establish their team’s control of the area.

Although it launched in the United States only at the start of this month, it has already become a cultural phenomenon. A reported 21 million people play it each day in the US alone.

Ms Proud urges churches that find that they are part of Pokémon Go to put up signs encouraging players to congregate, create a battery re-charging station, share the church’s WiFi password, and use the opportunity to start conversations with locals which could “lead on to other things”.

Some churches have already taken up the challenge, including Christ Church, Stone, in the diocese of Lichfield, which hosted a “PokéParty” on Friday of last week, which was so successful that they plan to run it again today.

As well as a free barbecue, hot dogs, table tennis, charging points, and WiFi, the church also set down two hours of virtual “lures”, which can be used in Pokémon Go to attract Pokémon to your current location.

The Vicar, the Revd Paul Kingman, said on Tuesday that the game was an excellent way to bridge the gap between the church and those in their 20s, which was a hard-to-reach demographic.

“It was a bit spur of the moment,” he admitted, but said that the event had been a huge success, with about 120 gamers turning up. Many had never been inside a church before, or not attended for years.

“Our intention is to help people understand more about Jesus Christ, and we had quite a few good conversations, which is valuable with this missing generation in the Church nationally.”

Rainbow Hill Baptist Church, in Worcester, has also held events with free WiFi and refreshments for Pokémon gamers. The minister, the Revd Ian Spence, told the Worcester News: “People were discovering fellow gamers who lived on the same street and engaging in conversations inspired by their common enjoyment of the Pokémon Go game.”

Cathedrals have also been trying to get in on the act. St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow tweeted: “We are a PokéStop and a Pokémon gym. Please bear with us whilst we work out what that means.”

After noticing a string of gamers congregating outside, City Road Methodist Church in Birmingham put up a sign in the door proclaiming that “Jesus Cares About Pokémon Gamers”, and invited anyone swinging by their PokéStop to join them on Sunday (News, 15 July).

In Florida, the pastor of the Brandon Assembly of God Church, Brent Simpson, re-arranged the letters on the church sign to read: “We are a PokéStop: get supplies outside, find Jesus inside”.

Some have urged caution, however. The NSPCC has warned parents that the game is designed to bring strangers together in the street. Guidance posted on the charity’s website encourages parents to play alongside their younger children to keep them safe, and to cap the amount of money that can be spent buying virtual currency inside the app.

The immersive nature of the game is also causing problems. There have been several reports of Pokémon Go gamers falling or bumping into real-world objects while chasing virtual ones.

And the Auschwitz Museum in Poland and Arlington National Cemetery in the US have had to ask tourists to refrain from trying to “catch ’em all” during their visit.

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