We are continuing our discussion on the intersection between the Church and the world of video games. To catch up visit Part One (introduction), Part Two (Negative Side), and Part Three (Positive Side), Part Four (A New Mindset) to stay up-to-date.
I have stated many times before that I believe video games are an uncharted mission field, and the church needs to start having conversations on how they can bring gamers to God. Just like when any new mission field opens up like a country, or neighborhood you first do research. You try to find and meet the needs of those in that mission field (what part four of this blog series was all about). But by learning what that country/people/neighborhood needs you can just simply offer it and think you’ll be effective. You have to also learn their language and culture, because what’s the difference between a salesman and a missionary? Trust. One is trying to sell you something for their benefit and one is trying to sell you something for your benefit. And people can see right through an inauthentic sales pitch even if it has to deal with your eternal soul.
Truth + Time = Trust
This simple formula goes a long way in the church but it’s easily forgotten because they think just because they are sharing the truth people will just accept it, and they can move on. But any good long-term missionary knows it requires a lot of effort and consistency to build trust with people. They have to feel they are known by you before they trust in being known by God. And in the video game world gamers are very mistrusting of the Church, and to be honest they have a right to be. Gamers have been judged (like many other people) by Christians in the Church since they came to be. Parents have worried that video games would rot their brains. They become zombies wasting away just staring at the family TV, then staring at their computer screens, and now staring at their phones.
The world of video games has looser morals, they are more open to different opinions and are exposed to more things than more people in society. So they are more sensitive to judgment, particularly from the Church. They don’t trust people who try to put limits or labels on them. Many gamers also struggle with loneliness, depression, and anxiety and they use video games as an escape or even a coping mechanism. Many Gamers believe the Church is irrelevant because the Church doesn’t keep up with the times and are still playing a Nintendo Cube on a 24″ TV screen in their youth room when they have an Xbox Series X on a 70″ High Def tv screen at home. Gamers view the Church as irrelevant, and the Church views Gamers as inappropriate. No wonder few Churches are seeing an impact with Gamers.
The question is how does the Church build trust with gamers?
It starts with realizing this world of video games is not like a known mission field. It’s radically different than what most of the Church is used to, so it requires different methods. Same message, different methods. Back in the 1950’s basketball coach Don McClanen saw the influence that sports athletes had and decided to ask several athletes who were Christian to start speaking out about their faith. Over the years the Church adopted this approach and the organization FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) was formed. Then in the 2000’s the church started adopting a technology that had been around for many years to stream their services. After the 2020 pandemic, Youtube was no longer “evil” but a necessary tool churches could use to spread the gospel. That is an over simplification, I get it, but it was an interesting site for me to see churches dramatically change their tune on the YouTube and Social Media platforms like Facebook when there was no real other way to get their services out. Churches learned very quickly to adopt something new, even something that has inappropriate content on it still to this day like YouTube. Why does YouTube get a pass but videos games don’t in many ministry leader’s minds?
We have to know the difference between Acts 2 vs. Acts 17 approach.
The best way to describe how the Church can be effective in this new video game world is by understanding the difference approaches from Acts 2 vs. Acts 17. In Acts 2 the disciples and others are waiting in the upper room like Jesus told them to when the Holy Spirit descends on them and they start speaking the Gospel in different languages. The people were shocked to hear and thought they were drunk. Peter gets up and gives a simple message that they are not drunk but they have found the savior and he is Jesus. Acts 17 is when Paul goes to Greece and starts speaking on Mars Hill to the philosophers and spiritual seekers of Athens. He gives a very long sermon going clearly back to the beginning of time setting up the foundation that is needed to even understand why humans need a savior and that savior is Jesus. Both accounts show someone preaching the message of the Gospel of Jesus but with different styles, methods, and results. Here are the differences:
Acts 2 with Peter:
- Peter was preaching to God-fearing Jews (the foundation was already laid that a God even exists and who he was)
- Most had at least the basic spiritual foundation and knowledge of the law
- Most knew about savior that was foretold, they just didn’t know who He was
- Peter’s message was short and about how Jesus was the messiah and they now need to repent
Acts 17 with Paul:
- Paul was speaking to people who didn’t even know if there was one God or many or even if there was a god
- His audience believed that truth is relative and there was contradicting worldviews in every group
- The average person knew nothing of the Jewish law or of the Jewish prophecy of a savior
- Paul’s message was long and went clear back to creation so he could lay the foundation of the Gospel
Notice the difference? The audience was different so the method that was used to give the message was different. The Church today still feels America is like Acts 2 where most people have a basic understand of the Gospel, the law, and of God. But times have changed and the reality is America is more like Acts 17 which is pluralistic, and confusing, where truth is relative and debate reigns. Where no one can agree on anything and doubt that there is sin let alone a need for a savior.
What was the result of these two sermons? Peter barely preached for a few minutes and scripture says over 3,000 people came to Christ! (v. 41) Paul peached much longer and “some became believers” (v. 34). The harvest is still ripe but the Church has been using outdated tools far too long.
So what’s the point?
I haven’t shared a crucial difference in the accounts yet… With Paul, he didn’t just start talking about God and creation. He looked around his surroundings and saw many alters to different gods. The culture was so pluralistic that all people agreed on was that no one could know anything for sure. So they created an alter to “an unknown god”. Paul saw that and used that as the connecting point for the Gospel message.
I am suggesting if we are going to reach this uncharted mission field of video games we need to start finding our own connecting points or our own alters to “an unknown god” that Paul did. The Church can’t run or dismiss video games anymore otherwise we lose a great opportunity for impactful mission work. We can look to different aspects of video games to connect with them. Video games deal a lot with good vs. evil, right vs. wrong. Choice vs. free will. God’s controlling humans. Freedom vs. oppression. Using imagination. Storytelling. Community building opportunities. Memory creatoring experiences. And more. We just have to be willing to learn and have the right mindset that we are the foreigners and we need to be respeful of their customs before they will ever listen or trust us. Bottom line before we can talk about how we can use video games as a mission field we should keep this in mind: