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Pokémon Go and Its Untapped Potential in the New Evangelization

Pokemon Go croppedEven people who have no interest in Japanese culture or anime are suddenly aware of Pokémon Go. So popular, according to Google Analytics, it has surpassed even pornography as the most accessed thing on the internet. (See the Newsweek report here). The game has been covered in the media, discredited by disgruntled homeowners, and brought new hope to those parents hoping their kids would go outside for once.

More than just a passing fad, an aspect of this game has handed many Churches across the nation a golden opportunity by bringing many people literally to their doorsteps. The game works on a similar premise as the sport of geocaching. Players download a map of their local area. Local landmarks, such as fire stations, historical landmarks, and churches, host “Pokestops” (or stores for items in the game) and “gyms” where players can compete with one another. The game works with the GPS capabilities in the players’ smartphones, so they have to literally be in those places in order to access those parts of the game. Many of those places happen to be Catholic Churches.

My husband is an avid player of the game, so I’ve tagged along with him and witnessed where many of these stops are. The game is primarily targeted toward young adults and teens and wildly popular. I expected to see at least one or two examples of some sort of outreach to the players. In the three or four churches we have visited, I did not see a single instance of outreach.

Businesses and local organizations have been taking advantage of their landmark status in the game. Our local library is a gym in the game. The library has a full bulletin board dedicated to it in a prominent place for visitors to see. It also has a sign on the door advertising the Pokestop and invites people in for a free library card.

Why can’t parishes do something similar? Even something as simple as a sign welcoming players to the church, and inviting them to youth events or posting mass times could be very effective.
Never before has a popular trend in video game or youth culture literally brought people to the doors of our churches.

The world of pop culture is fickle and ever changing. This is a golden opportunity for evangelization and reaching souls that is unlikely to occur again. It may be over very soon. We need to act now to take advantage of this phenomenon.

Christ told us to become fishers of men, and we have a solemn responsibility to reach all those that we can. This new game is like a net for souls. We gotta catch ‘em all.


Emily Hess is a recently married twenty-something woman with a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and a hunger for the Truth.  She has worked as an intern for the Marriage and Family Life office in her diocese, and graduated from the only Catholic university in Oklahoma: St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee.  She resides with her husband in beautiful South Texas.
  • Harry Martin

    So with this digital, virtual game as a means of evangelism we can anticipate digital, virtual conversions and virtual relationships with Christ? Would the players of this, and other games, look up from the device screens long enough to enter into a true realities of grace?
    J.R.R. Tolkien saw great peril in the industrial, mechanical, technological age as it divorces humanity from both creation and the Creator. It would be interesting to hear his thoughts on this concept.

    • Emily Hess

      Harry,
      Thanks for your feedback! That’s an interesting take on the subject matter…I hadn’t thought of it that way.

      The unique thing about this particular game is that you have to interact with the real world in order to play it. You have to actually visit the places it indicates, as in get in your car and drive (or walk) there, in order to get objects in the game. And a lot of the places in the game are Catholic Churches.

      It is a good point that a lot of people will probably be enmeshed in the game and would fail to notice an outreach attempt. But not necessarily all of them. And the game brings people to the church who would normally never even consider visiting a church to begin with, meaning that it’s much easier to attempt an outreach attempt for those people. We don’t have to convert them on the spot. Just establishing an initial contact, an invitation to come into the church (or to an event, or what have you…), could have huge ramifications for some of these souls.

      Just because people spend time in the digital world doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be open to grace. If that were the case, we’d both be doomed. God only needs a little bit of willingness on our part to work with us.

    • TK

      Tolkien would be writing his next great novel. Your comment is most ironic considering you wrote it on a electronic device, on a website, which is on the internet

  • Andrzej S

    With all due respect, it’s incredibly naïve to assume that simply because kids and young adults show up outside of a church, they’ll likely decide to come to a Mass.

    With noses buried deep in their virtual world, the likelihood that they’re interested in reality and religion is slim to none. They’re not interested in truth, they only seek gratification.

    What I can foresee is a group of teens catching pokemon outside of a church with its front doors open and adoration and benediction happening inside. The handful of possible conversions of people is not worth the Church encouragement of silly pop culture games that will fizzle out in a year or two.

    New Evangelization starts with me, not the culture. And I have to challenge people wherever I am, being Jesus to them; not trying and working with and promoting pop culture in hope that it may bring a convert or two.

    • Emily Hess

      You have to challenge and encounter people where they are. And if where they are happens to be outside of your church doors, literally, isn’t it common hospitality to invite them in?

      I don’t see it as encouraging or promoting the use of the game so much as inviting people in who are there anyway. I’m not even saying that they’re likely to accept the invitation- I’m saying that it needs to be made.

      My husband and I both play the game, and we’re also involved in our parish. We also both majored in philosophy in college, so the pursuit of truth is actually very integral to both of us. It seems to be uncharitable to make a blanket assumption (that they’re only interested in instant gratification) about an entire demographic of people who happen to like playing a video game during their free time. That’s very likely only part of who they are.

      Even if it’s true, it can’t possibly cost a parish that much in hang a few flyers outside their doors, or, per your excellent suggestion, to leave the door open during adoration and invite people in. What is there to lose?

      • Emily Hess

        Just to clarify how the game works, Churches don’t have the ability to set up themselves as a destination in the game. The video game company is in charge of that. What has happened is that the company has independently chosen a lot of churches as ‘local landmarks’ that host a part of the game.

        The church wouldn’t be establishing itself as a part in the game; it is already. It would be taking advantage of the fact that it already is a part of the game. Hope that helps.

    • TK

      I’m not seeing the assumption “that simply because kids and young adults show up outside of a church, they’ll likely decide to come to a Mass.”

      Therefore, your whole comment is based on something that’s not even written in the article. Not to mention it’s pretty snobby and rude.