By: Karla Hovde
By installing one sign on its church grounds, Glendale UMC in Savage has connected with a new group of people you may be surprised to learn frequent church locations: Pokémon Go players.
Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game that is played on smartphones. Players go to various local landmarks, such as neighborhood parks and church grounds, to play the game.
A member of Glendale UMC’s Trustees Committee and a Pokémon Go player, Mason Green, suggested posting a welcome sign at the church community garden, which is also the location of a Pokémon Go gym. The sign includes a welcome statement from the church to Pokémon Go players and a QR code to access the church website.
“I wanted people to see Glendale as a place that is welcoming to younger people, as well as anyone of any age who plays the game,” said Green.
Soon after the sign went up in the summer, a user on the social media platform Reddit shared a photo of the sign with the Pokémon Go community, which got more than 6,000 upvotes. In the comments, people expressed appreciation for this example of a church that was welcoming to players in the community. Other comments told stories of being chased off and treated poorly at other church locations for stopping by to play the game.
Rev. Kate Payton said that by using the QR code on the sign to access the church website, people saw that Glendale UMC was different from people’s assumptions about Christians and churches. They saw it was a wecoming place.
Payton held outdoor office hours last summer and was able to talk with one player who came to the church grounds often. He played the game as a way to connect with his grandson.
“One thing I have learned as a pastor from this experience is how important it is to have a variety of people with different perspectives on church committees,” Payton said. “Without Mason’s perspective on the committee, this idea never would have become a reality.”
Green, who also initiated an effort to install bike racks at Glendale UMC, encouraged lay people in other congregations to not be afraid of suggesting their creative ideas to their own churches.
“Keep trying!,” Green said. “A lot of times, people are busy and aren’t ready to consider new ideas at the moment, so you might have to bring up the idea again at a more opportune time.”
Payton sees the sign as just one more way the church is reaching new people. Without this one small but creative act of community outreach, Glendale UMC never would have connected with these Pokémon Go players—both the people who have physically visited the church, and the thousands of people who saw the trending post on Reddit.
Payton also appreciated the chance to “hear the stories from people who experienced harm from churches in the past and saw Glendale UMC as a different kind of church.”
Karla Hovde is the communications specialist for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church