Diocese sees ‘Pokemon Go’ craze as evangelization opportunity

Department of Evangelization creates four-page resource guide for parishes

GREEN BAY — What should the church’s response be to Pokemon Go? According to Julianne Stanz, diocesan director of the Department of New Evangelization, it should be go — as in “go and make disciples of all nations.”

The Green Bay Diocesan Department of Evangelization has created a four-page resource for parishes interested in engaging youth who are participating in the wildly popular smartphone app, Pokemon Go.

The Green Bay Diocesan Department of Evangelization has created a four-page resource for parishes interested in engaging youth who are participating in the wildly popular smartphone app, Pokemon Go.

Stanz and members of her department have created a Pokemon Go resource guide for parishes called “A Parish Primer: Responding to Parish Questions and Concerns.”

The four-page guide (available online at www.gbdioc.org/images/pokevangelization.pdf) gives a description of Pokemon Go, definition of key words, the history of Pokemon and an explanation why parishes should care about the video game.

“In the new Pokemon Go game, points, prizes and levels are gained by catching Pokemon and by going to gyms and PokeStops — tagged locations in the real world where users can stock up on gear and points for the game,” the document states.

It explains that these locations are determined by GPS coordinates and Google Maps. “Many of those stops are also located it churches,” it states. “Many parishes are reporting massive increases in foot traffic around their buildings and on their grounds. … The game is fostering relationship building between parents and children, neighbors and even among strangers.”

In an email to The Compass, Stanz said that the parish resource was created “in conjunction with a team of parish leaders skilled in evangelization outreach who are looking at using the technology as part of their ministry.”

She said her department received calls from parishes asking for information about the game.

“The Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross and the (St. Francis Xavier) Cathedral (staff) had noticed more foot traffic to their locations at unusual times of the day by young people. They were curious how to approach these persons and what specific reasons they were drawn to their location,” said Stanz.

Bishop David Ricken supports the Evangelization Department’s initiative. In fact, he first led the Pokeman Go outreach on his Twitter account July 11. A second tweet followed on July 12.

“Bishop Ricken, as a national leader in evangelization, entered into the Pokemon Go world with a tweet that has been shared thousands upon thousands of times,” said Stanz.

Stanz said making parishes aware of why people are visiting their church location is the first step in understanding and responding to the Pokemon Go phenomenon.

“The second step is to help parishes to evangelize those who are coming so that this can be a moment of opportunity and possibility,” she said. “It is likely that many coming to the cathedral, for example, have never been there before and the presence of a welcoming volunteer who engages them in conversation can make all the difference in cultivating a favorable opinion of the Catholic Church.”

Stanz, who has downloaded the Pokemon Go app and plays it regularly with her family, said some people may question whether the church should bother engaging people with new technologies such as Pokemon Go. She points to a few quotes — from Scripture and from recent popes — which support the engagement.

“The words from Jesus himself, who commanded us to ‘go and makes disciples of all nations’ and a quote from St. John Paul II to embrace ‘new ardors, new methods and new expressions’” give church ministers guidance, she said. “Pokemon Go is certainly something we couldn’t have predicted would bring people to our front doors but I’m grateful for every opportunity to engage people who we normally wouldn’t see for Christ.”

5 tips for parishes

The diocesan Department of Evangelization offers these five tips to parishes that are interested in reaching out to young people who are playing Pokemon Go.

1. Check your location on the game.
Download Pokémon Go on your smartphone. Even if you never play it, you can see if your church is a PokéStop or a Gym. Check where on your grounds it is active. Can people simply drive by on the street and activate it? Or will they need to wander through the parish cemetery? Knowing exactly where to expect people and how long they may be at your location can help you plan how to engage them.

2. Engage in conversation.
Take advantage of the natural community-building happening around this game. Find the exact location of the PokéStop or Gym at or near your building(s) and ask friendly, Pokémon-literate parishioners to volunteer for a slot as a greeter. Many youth and young adults are familiar with the game and how it works. Consider setting up an “Ask a Priest” station. Train volunteers by giving them basic info such as: which bathrooms are okay for visitors to use, which doors are locked, and where other nearby PokéStops and Gyms are. Teach them how to engage in trust-building conversations with those who may stop by (not necessarily religious/theology focused conversations).

3. Meet player needs.
It is well known among Pokémon Go players that the app drains battery life. Consider offering outdoor recharging stations (with extension cords and a variety of mobile device chargers). Playing the game also uses massive amounts of data. Your parish could offer to give out your WiFi password to those who are hunting on your parish grounds. If you are seeing a lot of foot traffic, you may want to become a full service pit stop by also offering food and drink.

4. Attract Pokémon to your location.
Players can purchase “Lure Modules” that attract Pokémon to a specific PokéStop for 30 mins. Some parishes have dropped lure modules on a PokéSpot (or asked a parishioner who is playing the game to do so). Players who see an active lure will come and sit at the PokéSpot for a longer period of time waiting for the Pokémon to appear — presenting opportunities for conversation and relationship-building. Some parishes are using lures as part of the draw for an event — for example, buying a lure module for VBS Kickoff event or fall festival and announcing it on promotional materials (flyers, signs, social media, etc).

5. Use signs to welcome players & communicate expectations.
Consider posting signs on your property letting players know they are welcome. The signs could include invitations for players to stop inside or have an address and phone number that players could use text/email prayer requests. The key is to build bridges of trust and break down barriers for those who may not be regular church visitors. Below are just a few examples of signs other churches have used across the country to evangelize using Pokémon Go.