Pokémon Go and the Church
Last week, Pokémon Go was released, and the game became an instant hit. Pokémon was a video and card game created in the late 90’s. The new smartphone app takes a few concepts of the card game and mixes in physical exercise and community interaction.
To fill up on supplies, Pokéstops were created. Many of the Pokéstops are church buildings from various faiths, but mostly Christian. The congregation where I pastor (Palm Coast Bible Church) is one of the Pokéstops. Being a Pokéstop presents a great opportunity for our congregation to influence and reach people that would not normally be influenced by the church. The following sign was created to reach out to those playing the game:
We also placed the sign on our Facebook page to reach as many people as possible. Already, we are seeing great interest. Yesterday, I stood outside of our church building and talked with a guy named Thomas. He is a single dad with a two-year-old daughter. We had a surface-level conversation about Pokémon and I invited him and his daughter to join us on Sunday. On Facebook, one of our team pastors had someone he’s been trying to encourage to come to worship say, “Now, I might actually show up!”
This is an example of the church meeting people where they are. 20-30 new people a day are driving onto our church property. These are people that never knew the church existed. Before Pokémon Go, we had less than 10 new people a week driving onto our property. It would be appalling to have this many non-church people coming to our campus, and we do nothing to reach out to them.
Although we are starting to see some good things come from the advertisement, we are also getting some concern over what we are doing. I understand the concern. Before we put out the sign, I spent a good amount of time researching and debating the merits of such an outreach. I didn’t know anything about Pokémon.
Below are the results of my research. If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, here are the bullet points:
- Our freedom in Christ helps us determine if the activity we participate in is beneficial for us or harmful to us.
- There is nothing inherently moral or immoral about games.
- Any game can become a spiritual hindrance under the wrong circumstance, just as any activity in our lives can be harmful if we are not mindful of the activity.
- In reality, the creatures are actually various types of animals.
- Pokemon is not much different than the cartoons of Disney.
I hope to enter into a dialogue with anyone that wants to discuss this issue further. Please feel free to leave comments and let’s work this out together.
I like what the Apostle Paul said, “Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
See my research post below.
There are two mistakes followers of Jesus make when it comes to culture. The first is being careless, or participating without considering the consequences. The second is being paranoid, or rejecting something based on little or no information. I believe the concerns surrounding Pokemon are a mixture of both.
1 Corinthians 10:23-33 provides good insight for us regarding Pokemon or any cultural phenomena.
You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial. Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others. So you may eat any meat that is sold in the marketplace without raising questions of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” If someone who isn’t a believer asks you home for dinner, accept the invitation if you want to. Eat whatever is offered to you without raising questions of conscience. (But suppose someone tells you, “This meat was offered to an idol.” Don’t eat it, out of consideration for the conscience of the one who told you. It might not be a matter of conscience for you, but it is for the other person.) For why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks? If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it? So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.
Our freedom in Christ helps us determine if the activity we participate in is beneficial for us or harmful to us. In order to make such a determination, we need to have an accurate understanding of the activity, so we can make the right choice.
On a practical stand point, there is nothing inherently moral or immoral about games. Pokemon uses strategy and an understanding of what piece follows which rules, must like someone who plays chess or checkers. Any game can become a spiritual hindrance under the wrong circumstance, just as any activity in our lives can be harmful if we are not mindful of the activity. We must be cautious not to let any game become an addiction and ruin a good thing. Another concern when it comes to Pokemon is the cost involved. Games such as Pokemon Go have the option to purchase coins in order to advance faster in the game. Care should be taken to make sure one does not overspend on such a game and create financial issues for themselves.
As for a spiritual standpoint, let me address a couple of common issues.
- The word pokemon is short for “pocket monster.” This is a description of the creatures used in game. In reality, the creatures are actually various types of animals. Players capture Pokemons, train them, and use them against other Pokemons. There are advantages and disadvantages to every Pokemon, just as their are in the pieces in a game of chess.
- Most Pokemon have magical special abilities. Most abilities are non-spiritual (weight gain, change the weather), but some are based spiritual concepts drawn from Eastern religions.
The Pokemon Go game is GPS-based, augmented reality game. The game encourages physical interaction by walking around to catch Pokemon. Many people have told me they walk an extra 2-5 miles a day because of this game. Pokestops are places where people can go and refill their supplies. Church buildings are common places for Pokestops.
Pokemon is not much different than the cartoons of Disney. There is “magic” but it is not overly occult. The violence in Pokemon is cartoonish, similar to Bugs Bunny, and there is no blood. Characters actually do not die in Pokemon, but faint. The animals are whimsical and not scary.
Taken at face value, there is unlikely to be a significant threat to anyone’s spirituality. However, it is important for parents and individuals to determine whether or not the game is appropriate for them.
Every follower of Jesus should do research into the game and make a decision on how to proceed.
Content adapted from: