You 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?