Blog/CYM Blog

Pokémon Go – Catching Teens Instead of Pokémon

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or somehow haven’t been anywhere near teens in the past week), a new mobile game has taken the world by storm. It’s possible that you’ve been noticing countless teens meandering around your church, nearby parks, malls, and other public locations with their eyes glued to their phones, stopping every few minutes to swipe rapidly at their screen, and then move on.

The culprit behind this massively viral new game is one you may not expect: Pokémon. The pocket-sized monsters have been resurrected from the ‘90s and have made their way to millions of smartphones around the world. The game, which is free to download, was first released to the public on July 6th, and in less than a week had more than 7 million U.S. downloads, was making close to $2 million a day from the in-game store, and increased Nintendo’s market value by $7 billion.

Out & About

The premise of the app is simple but effective – using the mobile device’s GPS signal and camera, players travel around a virtual map of their real surroundings, hunting & capturing Pokémon characters. A digital avatar represents their location, and the nearby area is digitized into a virtual, but accurate map. When they stumble upon a Pokémon, the device’s camera is used to make it appear as if the Pokémon is in the real world (this combination of a virtual game and real-world interactions is known as “augmented reality”).

That’s the basis of Pokémon Go, and teens have (quite literally) picked it up and ran with it. Gone are the days of sitting on a couch and using a joystick to navigate your video game character around a field; now teens are getting out of the house and walking through that field themselves so that their digital character can find the rarest and strongest Pokémon.

The Good & The Bad

A general Pokémon craze is currently gripping the country, and while the game is sure to calm down within the next couple of weeks, it’s very likely right now that almost every teen at your parish is playing it.

With the game, comes a number of good and bad aspects that can be both positives to your church and youth group, and negatives that are potentially dangerous and distracting.

Your Church is a Hotspot

Scattered across the map are various PokéStops and gyms, which are real-world locations that have been designated in the game as places to pick up free items and battle other players. This is why you may have noticed masses of teens huddled around certain landmarks or buildings – players must be physically close enough to the location for their digital player to benefit from it.

An interesting fact though about Pokémon Go: almost every church is a PokéStop, probably including yours. This means that players have to be physically near your church in order to benefit. While the majority of people most likely will just sit outside or maybe even just sit in the parking lot, there’s a good chance that you might see more foot traffic near your parish.

Come for Pokémon, Stay for Jesus

As people visit your church for the PokéStop, take advantage of this great opportunity to welcome them with open arms, even if all they’re doing is chasing imaginary creatures. Having a staff member nearby to talk to people, offering snacks and drinks, a postcard inviting them to Mass or a ministry event, or just something simple as a welcome sign on the door, are small steps that show people your church is always ready to welcome them home.

Other ways to benefit from the game at your parish could be scheduling a fun event like a group ‘safari style’ Pokémon hunt around your area or a nearby park, or incorporating it into a Life Night, with teens ‘battling’ through other fun, competitive games. The game provides an excellent opportunity to explore an area and exercise, which is unexpected in terms of typical video games, and this should be capitalized on!

There are also items in the game such as “lures” and “incense” which draw an increased amount of Pokémon to a particular area, (and a significant number of players to the area too). As crazy as it sounds, using these to your advantage could very easily attract a sizable crowd to your parish in a matter of minutes. Who knows what could happen if you employ this 30 minutes before you have an event starting with free pizza!

The primary benefit of the game is clear – people will be drawn to your church like a magnet in search of Pokémon, and therein lies a great opportunity for them to discover something even more powerful: Jesus. Being knowledgeable of the game and welcoming to those coming by are great evangelization tools.


Watch Your Step

Pokémon Go hasn’t exploded into the public without its fair share of red flags and hiccups. Players who become too engrossed in their digital explorations can be distracted, indifferent to private property, and wander far off the beaten path.

Twisted ankles, bumped foreheads, and many more mild injuries are popping up rapidly as players walk with their noses in their phones. Remind your teens about the importance of being aware of their surroundings, and to still look both ways before crossing the road, no matter what Pokémon is on the other side.

Other issues include players chasing Pokémon on private properties (hopping into someone’s backyard while on the hunt for rare Pokémon is a no-no) and visiting PokéStops and gyms at late hours (multiple police stations have had to issue warnings about trespassing and driving while playing).

The ability to drop ‘lures’ can also be used maliciously, as seen in Missouri where four men used Pokémon Go to attract their victims to areas and then robbed them at gunpoint.

Common sense and situational awareness can be tossed aside in the craze of a hunt, so reminding your teens to stay in groups, not venture into an unsafe area (even if a lure is there), and to respect those around them are beneficial ways to help them stay safe while still enjoying the game.

Gotta Catch ‘Em All

While on the surface level, Pokémon Go is simply a fun and interactive game featuring those colorful characters from the ‘90s, this game provides a unique opportunity in the world of ministry. Teens are getting out of the house to play a video game, complete strangers are gathering in public areas to compete, and people who may not have been to church in years are arriving at the front door.

Don’t let this useful tool disguised as a fun app pass you by without using it to your advantage to reach out to teens and those in your area!


About the Author

Jay Martin

Somehow ended up on a bus to Covecrest at the age of 14 and hasn't looked back since. Reverently trill at all times. Your youth group's favorite DJ. Enjoys Whataburger, good music and leading teens closer to Christ. Holla at me: @Jay__Martin

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