On 6 July 2016, the virtual universe leaked into the real world with the release of PokemonGo. I have to be honest with you that I have not played the game. I don’t quite understand the game but I have read the concerns being raised in some quarters about it being linked to the Eastern religions of Shintoism, etc. However, I do know a couple of important points — 

  • It has taken the world by storm as social media seemed to be consumed by either the violence in Dallas or a video game over the weekend
  • My generation of Busters on up seem flummoxed as to how to respond or feel about this game

Therefore, I went to the experts and asked some of my former college students to explain the game to me. Here was one response – “basically geocaching” which sent me to the Internet because I didn’t know what the word meant …

Is an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called “geocaches” or “caches”, anywhere in the world. (Wikipedia)

Another former student, Jubal T., put it in more basic terms:

You run around exploring and looking for Pokémon using your gps on your phone. You have to catch them and collect them, then use them to take over gyms in your area by battling other Pokémon. It’s basically exploration based, and you can only progress if you move around and search for notable landmarks and such, which rewards you with free stuff that you need. As for the origin of Pokémon being based on Shinto gods and demons, I cannot verify that. That is never mentioned in the show, games, etc. It’s basically animals with weird names and crazy powers that battle each other to be the very best, like no one ever was!

Typical Jubal language, but I basically get the idea of the game now – fun, distraction from reality, and adventure. Again, I don’t know about the possible religious overtones but I do know it is appealing to a generation that churches are losing … so we need to need to consider two additional questions:

  • Why is an animated Japanese figure more appealing than the Gospel message of Messiah Jesus? Are we doing something wrong in churches today? 
  • Would we be more involved in Evangelism if we saw real people as characters in PokemonGo? Jewish evangelism or just evangelism in general?

As to the first question, libraries and some churches are opening their doors to be “PokeStops” for players who want to find the little guys but who might never come in the front door. See here and here. However, my follow-up question would then be – how do we keep them coming back? What is our mentoring and follow-up plan?

As to the second question, I really think that Jesus wanted us to see the lost as these millennials and founders are seeing these animated characters … “Around every corner and everywhere.” However, do we as churches and Christians have a “LostFolksGo!” mentality? Or do we just sit around waiting for the next VR game to catch our fancy while the real reality is that the world is going to a very real hell without Messiah Jesus?


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