pokemonYou have to catch them all! Many have taken up the challenge to catch all of the Pokémon out there in the real/digitized world with infectious zeal and reckless abandon. With all cultural explosions, whether long-tenure game changers or fiery and fleeting, I always try to make sense of its attractiveness through a theological lens. Although the Pokemon game in its current state will probably have a short shelf life, the technology is here to stay. How should we think about this emerging digital connectedness from a Christian perspective?

What can the church learn?

Community. Like many other app store offerings, this app encourages connecting with other players. You can certainly fly solo, but to get ahead you have to connect. It also creates a feeling of FOMO—Fear of Missing Out. What’s the church’s FOMO quotient from Sunday to Sunday? Is there personal lament for being out of the loop or maybe a tinge of longing from others when your presence is missed on Sunday morning?

Accessibility. The game is free to play (assuming you have a smart phone). The technological economic gap (those not able to afford the upward mobility) is for another post for another time. For now, there is little barrier to becoming a participant. What barriers exist in communities of faith? Many say, “Come as you are,” but the translation is “Come as most of us are coming,” whether this mantra pertains to dress or politics or race or musical taste.

Diversity. The pokeman you seek to find are quite different from one another. Sometimes erring on a target audience means we miss the people God is actually sending to us. Every church on the planet gets excited about young adults in the sanctuary, but are churches truly interested in Millennial salvation, or is 18-35 year old outreach simply a means of preserving the institution for another generation.

Healthy Competition. In the Pokegym you battle others to gain points. There are serious bragging rights for ending a battle in victory. In the church we call it “Accountability.” Not that accountability is a competition, but it is a challenge of sorts. Encouraging your sister or brother to pray, read scripture, and reach out in service, and in turn, for them to challenge you, helps us to grow in our love of God and each other.

Location, location, location. The game is sending people into places they might never have seen. The heart of church leadership is leading people where they would not go alone. Are we brave enough to go to the other side of town to connect with those outside of our comfort zone?

Training. If you want to win, you’ve got to train. Too often many think of baptism as an ending rather than the beginning of discipleship. How are Christians “training” to meet the challenge of the Holy Spirit’s moving? God is alive, which means God is on the move. Can we keep up?

What can the Church teach?

Being Upright. St. Augustine’s definition of sin is an inward-turned soul. Pokémon Go leaves us to be slaves of a screen. It’s not really in the real world. It causes our hands to hold a phone rather than embracing each other. During Holy Communion we hear, “Christ delivered us from slavery to sin and death…and cell phones.” (I’m paraphrasing).

Authenticity. Even though the game sends you out into the world, there’s no encouragement to interact with it. It’s like a misguided mission project. You fly in, build a well, and fly out. You follow your GPS, nab a creature, and then you’re on to the next find. It’s like walking through a garden to get to where you want to go, and missing the opportunity to relish in a flower’s beauty.

Narrow Identity. When you start the game there are a few pre-selected avatars you can use. You have to fit a predetermined character. It’s like a church membership program gone awry, where instead of making disciples, we make conforming members. In Christ we discover a beautiful diversity in who God created each person to become. Many gifts, one Spirit.

These are just initial thoughts, and there’s certainly more to say. What do you think the church can learn from trying to “catch them all?” How can the church offer a different narrative and speak meaning to such a popular phenomenon?

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Sharon Savant

Very well said Matt. I never thought of it in the religious sense. Just thought if it as some crazy new game. Thanks for encouraging me to use my brain.

Robert Riley

Hide and seek, kick the can, red rover, spin the bottle, trick or treat, junior high sock hops, senior high dances, college mixers, football, tailgating, pick up games of baseball, basketball, football, easter egg hunts, scavenger hunts, picnics, swimming pools, Sunday School and church were all about community and neighborhoods and school mates. The phone was in the hallway at home attached to a cord with no answering machine. People wrote letters and sent cards. You paid to call long distance. And churches had a void, the 20-35 year olds. Fads came and went, air conditioning prevailed for some, music changed, young people listened to music their parents did not understand. The church stayed the same and expected change. Society changed and the church stayed the same expecting people to come because… Equality for women in 1920 after 150 years and the church stayed the same. Equality for minorities after centuries and the church stayed the same. Equal rights for all people and the church stays the same. Pokemons loose in the yard by the church, Pokemon gyms in the church for rivals or friendlies. And the church stays the same. The internet arrives and live streaming is available. And the church stays the same. Upon this rock, you will build My church. The rock is not a fixed location or a fixed building or even a fixed belief. The rock is faith in a supreme power Methodists connect with the Trinity. The church is found where two or more are gathered. The “church administration and leaders” have forgotten this admonition. Church has been in the streets all month crying to be heard. The church has been rebuilding homes in many mission areas in this country and the world. The church has been crying for lives lost this month, this year and every day before and to come. Ministers and bishops and deacons and priests and cardinals and archbishops and laity fly to meetings to dialog, to be tabled, to vote, to decide…and the church stays the same. Pope Francis has offered forgiveness, apology, hope, daring, caring and “CHANGE”. People are cooking for the church in the street. People are making sandwiches for the church in the street. The church stays the same and does not see the 18 to 35 year olds are in the street being the church. The static church is missing the dynamic church which has been working for change before Martin Luther, before John Wesley, before President Lincoln, before President Lyndon Johnson. The “game” has been, is and will be in the streets, the community, the neighborhoods, on the steps of government, at the door of business. The rock of faith has to roll to these places. You do not need a smart phone with an app. All you need is faith, hope and charity. Leave someone to answer the phone, shut your office door behind you, walk out and meet the people who live and work unseen on the streets and in the homes surrounding the church building. Take yourself to gather with one or more, for there He will be also. Lead the congregation out the front door Sunday morning, bring the choir, walk up the aisle, invite all who are able, support those who are not, lead them out the front door, stand by the street and say “this is where we belong”. Open your umbrella or pull out you handkerchief or scarf and lead your congregation down the sidewalks, shout Amen, let the choir and people sing. In the New Orleans spirit of the second line, celebrate your faith. (Get a police escort if needed). I guarantee, people will come out of their homes and watch in wonder, and join the second line dance.


Great piece! Reminding me of momentary thoughts of my downloaded finally and first captures yesterday! Funny how everything we do or encounter reminds us of our life so buried in the church! Level 4 now. Love your Location3, Authenticity, and Narrow Identity! Will wander through the rest in my mind as we SCJ today. I feel sure there will be a few for capture in the ballroom or sneaking about the Bishop’s gallery?!


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