For churches around the state, the sudden obsession over Pokémon Go has been a blessing in disguise.
The mobile phenomenon, which rolled out last week and immediately took hold, has millennials flocking to church buildings as part of the gameplay — and congregations are trying to capitalize on the opportunity to capture their attention as they linger nearby.
“If yours is like most mainline Protestant churches in Southern New England, you’ve spent a lot of time and energy wondering how you can get those 20- and 30-somethings to come to your church,” Tiffany Vail, associate conference Minister for communications for the Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island conferences of the United Church of Christ, wrote in a blog post this week.
“What if I told you they are quite literally at your doorstep? Right now,” she said.
In Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game played on smartphones, churches are often designated “gyms,” where so-called trainers can pit their virtual critters against opponents, or “Poké Stops,” a place to pick up supplies.
“What that means is that people playing the game are going to stop outside your church with their phone and download some goodies. If your church is a gym, they may hang around for quite some time playing there,” Vail wrote. “So, whether you want it or not, you’ve got a lot of young people showing up.”
Vail has recommended churches embrace the sudden influx of “kids and teens ... But also a LOT of millennials” by setting up charging stations for people whose smartphones are running low on battery life; sharing WiFi connections freely; hosting Pokémon-specific events on church property; and changing signs outside to alert players that they’re near a “Poké Stop.”
Some congregations, it seems, have already adhered to Vail’s advice.
South Church in Andover, which is a Poké Stop in the game, is hosting an event Sunday where Pokémon trainers can “refresh, recharge, and catch ‘em all!,” according to a Facebook post.
Church officials said they would put out “lures” — devices in the game used to attract rare Pokémon — for several hours during the gathering.
“So grab your phone, awkwardly hold it out in front of you, and stagger over to South Church,” officials wrote.
The First Congregational Church of North Attleboro used their signboard this week to welcome people chasing after Pokémon.
“Poké Stop Here!,” church officials wrote on the sign, which included a picture of a Poké Ball.
At Clinton Presbyterian Church, a similar message appeared. Church officials there let trainers know that playing on the property isn’t frowned upon.
“Pokétrainers welcome,” the church’s sign reads.
And in Concord, N.H., South Church has invited visitors playing Pokémon Go to come for the digital supplies, and stay for the sermons.
“Playing Pokémon Go? South Church is one of the stops,” church officials wrote on Facebook. “If you stop and get your Pokémon on a Sunday at 9:00 a.m. – stay and enjoy our 9:30 a.m. service in the Sanctuary.”
On the sign outside South Church, underneath church service information, officials posted the message, “Have a ball. Poké Stop here.”
Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.