Pokemon Go released this week to much fanfare! For those of us who grew up playing Pokemon, this is a dream come true. We can now walk around and catch virtual Pokemon with our friends and battle others for some fun competition.
The game is meant to get kids(and apparently millions of adults lol) active and off the couch and moving around. AND ITS WORKING! You walk around your neighborhood and Pokemon pop up on your phone's screen for you to catch. You can them train them to make them stronger to take to gyms which are popular places around town like churches, historical marker or city buildings.
This game is not only fun and brilliantly nostalgic, if used well, it can help us improve physically, mentally and in evangelization.
This is the game's primary goal for it's users. We all know that we, especially kids, are less active as a society than in years past. Video games are a part of that epidemic. Many people, myself included at times, would rather stay inside in the air conditioning and sit on a couch for hours playing video games. This is a video game that addresses that by encouraging and rewarding people for walking around and exploring.
As Christians, we know that "our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit."(1 Corinthians 6:19) Our bodies are a precious gift that we only get one of. We need to take care of them and so many recent studies have shown that walking is more beneficial for our health than we thought. And it is definitely more beneficial than sitting on the couch :) I have lost 10 pounds this year and my only substantial change has been walking a few times a week after work either alone or with my family. This game is encouraging me even more to "get to steppin'".
The first aspect of how this game can help us with our mental health ties in with the physical health. The more active we are, the better our body functions and the better our brain works. Physical exercise is a proven stress reliever and in our fast-paced world, we can all use a little less stress in our lives.
Another thing that can improve our mental state is spending times with friends and family. I have noticed both at home and at work how much more lively life is because we have all been playing this game together throughout the week. At home, my wife and kids have joined me in catching pokemon on nightly walks. My wife is playing along on her phone and the kids love seeing the pokemon on our street or in our rooms. At the office, our staff has bonded so much over who caught which pokemon, who is stronger and sharing stories of encounters with other Pokemon trainers. The joy, laughter and extra time spent with each other has already begun to bear fruit in our relationships.
This final improvement has been a huge topic of discussion around the ministry office but also online in youth ministry Facebook groups all to answer one simple question: how can we use this game to help share the love and message of Jesus with people?
Since many churches are destinations in the game as gyms or pokestops, many youth ministries are using this to their advantage to reach people who may not have ever stepped foot on their property without Pokemon Go. Also, many of us who are in ministry are playing and are seeing so many people walking around playing as well. This is such an easy conversation starter to have personal contact with people we would otherwise never have and can lead to really cool opportunities for evangelization.
Here are some of the best ideas I have seen:
-Have a sign outside saying, "Hey, Pokemon trainer. Having fun? It's hot out there, come inside for free wi-fi and a cold lemonade." They then have the youth minister or others waiting inside to have conversations with people. Brilliant!
-Have a Pokemon catching walk with your youth group. So many of our youth are playing anyway, so have a youth night this summer where you walk around the church's neighborhood catching pokemon. It will be fun to go as a group and bond. Then when you come back, you can have a short lesson on evangelization, the pros and cons to technology or another related topic.
-Have actual conversations with people. We live in a social media culture where much of our communicating is done through phones. This game has already given me opportunities to have conversations with people I never would have spoken to. You can get to know the person and in many cases, as you share about yourself, your faith can be a topic of conversation. I also suggest, carrying around some cards with encouraging Scripture on them to hand to your fellow Pokemon trainers. You never know what could happen next.
So what will you do?
Comment below on how you think the game can be beneficial to your growth as a person or how you can use this to the advantage of your church/ministry?
And for those of you who are playing, I would also love if you would share your favorite Pokemon Go experience.