Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Hospitality in the midst of a virtual craze

If you are hiding under a social media rock, then you probably have not heard about Pokemon Go. It is a game played on cell phones or other portable devices. The Pokemon property has been around about 20 years and has spawned games, television shows, comic books, and movies.

The basic rule of the game is to catch imaginary creatures and collect them, power them up (by collecting more of the same), and sending them to fight others. The collecting part requires a player to wander around the real world until they cross paths with a critter. Then, using the device on which they are playing, the critter is captured by flicking a ball on the screen toward the object of their capturing desires. Part of the real world interaction are places of interest or gathering. Pokestops are a sort of refilling station. Gyms are places where rival players can "battle" their Pokemon. No real violence is committed.

What Niantic and Nintendo have done is create an intersection of virtual reality and real life.

I believe churches have been given an opportunity to show hospitality like never before.

There are a lot of people playing this game. Within 1 week, it was accessed more than almost every other mobile app that is used by the on-the-go world. There are a lot of people playing this game. And, because it uses real world locations, there are people being brought into the circle of influence of our churches that may have never been interested in stepping foot on our property.

If a church is fortunate enough to have a Pokestop or Gym overlapping their physical location, there will be plenty of people coming within feet of the front doors. A player does not have to enter a facility to access the Pokemon location. They only have to be within the radius of the virtual location. But the Pokestops refresh every 5 minutes. It is not uncommon for players to "camp" at Stops to reload on needed virtual tools to play the game. Gyms afford Teams an opportunity to claim a location or individuals a chance to level up their critters.

What is your church going to do with all of those people who come within your hospitality range?

Some will ignore this: It is just a silly game. It doesn't offer our church anything. It will be played out shortly and not last long enough to mobilize any effort.

Some will resist this: They don't need to trespass on our property. They don't want to know anything about us, they just want to use the property for themselves. They don't respect the spiritual nature of the place.

But this is a chance to become known for hospitality. This is an opportunity to show grace in radical ways. It is a chance to get to know the neighbors and strangers who will seek out our churches. Sure, it may be a goofy, frivolous game that gets them there. But thanks to a multi-million dollar effort, our churches have free publicity. People are playing the game. People are traveling around.

How will we welcome the stranger? How will we receive the searching? How will we open our doors to the people who come onto our property with a welcome and inviting spirit?