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Back From China

Summary: A few thoughts from Pastor Bryan following his recent trip to China with other Grace Chapel staff and leaders.

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Our Grace Chapel Vision Team is just back from a fascinating Cross-Cultural Learning Experience (CCLE) to China.  My wife Karen and I, along with Grace Chapel pastors Jeanette Yep and Tom Lee, elder Victor Gerdes, and GC member Tien Chen spent 8 days together learning and getting a sense of what God is up to in some parts of China.

I’ll share more comprehensive reflections in a Sunday message on August 28, but in the meantime I’ll offer some brief thoughts and observations....

Everything in China is BIG.  From ancient – The Great Wall, The Forbidden City – to contemporary – Tienanmen Square, the Beijing airport, the Olympic Village.  And the cities!  China has 56 cities over 5 million people.  (The US has 5!)   The message is clear: “We’re big.  We’re strong.  And we’re here to stay.”  

The churches in China are growing, whether the registered or unregistered (house church) variety.  One Sunday we worshiped with hundreds of believers at the second service of a mega-church, and shopped in the church bookstore afterwards!  At the same time, house church leaders are likely to be summoned to the local police station if they grow too much.

China has a rich and complex spiritual heritage, including Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, folk religion, and a temple where the emperor went once a year to seek forgiveness for the nation.  (Sound familiar?)  While the majority of young Chinese have no religious convictions, we found university students quite open to spiritual conversation.

KFC is everywhere. (And General Gao’s chicken is not on the menu!)

God honors the work of His servants. The growing church in China is the fruit of visionary and sacrificial missionaries, who planted seeds and tilled the soil many generations ago.  The work is being continued by faithful Chinese believers and this partnership/transition was great for us to see.  I was humbled by the courage, the competence, and the commitment of the national believers and international workers who live “on mission” daily in China. 

The church in the West has much to learn from the church in China.  But you’ll have to come on August 28 to find out!

Posted by Bryan Wilkerson with

When Pokémon Comes to Church

Summary: Millions of people are excited about a new mobile video game, and we are too. It’s a cultural moment, it brings people together, and it brings them to church (sort of).

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By now, you’ve probably heard about Pokémon Go, the mobile app that has quickly become one of the hottest things since Facebook. It’s a new iteration of the original Pokémon game created by Nintendo in 1995. (For more info on the Pokémon franchise, click here). Pokémon has included playing card games, TV shows, and video games on Nintendo’s Game Boy system. Now, it’s available and free for anyone with an Android or Apple smartphone.

To give you an idea of just how popular Pokémon Go is…

  • It had over 7.5 million downloads in the first 6 days it was available. That’s even more than our app, Grace Chapel Connect.
  • The average user is really engaged: they spend 43 minutes in it daily.
  • Nintendo saw a $7.5 billion increase in Nintendo’s stock value in 2 days.
  • It took 6 days to overtake Twitter in active users. It’s going to overtake Snapchat and Google Maps in active users any day now.

As we like to say here in Boston, it’s wicked populah.

If you’re not playing it, you might be wondering why everyone else is (and for that matter, why we’re blogging about it). Simply put, it’s fun! It mixes the real and the virtual into a single experience: you look through your phone’s camera, and see Pokémon figures in front of you, moving around in the physical world. And it’s really social: you play with and against other people.

It also gets people walking around. A lot. So much so that sore legs from Pokémon are actually a thing

Did you hear about the animal shelter that told people, since you’re already walking around playing Pokémon, why not walk a dog while you’re at it?

It brings people together. Parents are walking around the neighborhood with their kids more, and people are making friends with people they meet while playing.

But we’re especially excited about how the game uses churches. Local points of interest like parks, libraries, and shopping areas are key places where players aggregate and find resources; these are called pokéstops or gyms. One of the most common Pokémon gyms is churches.

Here’s what’s really cool: churches are figuring this out, and finding ways to reach out to people who show up on their doorstep playing Pokémon, many of whom have never set foot in a church before.   

Now we understand that most people showing up at a church playing Pokémon probably aren’t doing so on a Sunday morning. They aren’t there to worship, and they’re probably looking for Pidgeys and Weedles, not Jesus. But they are showing up, and that creates opportunities for conversations that might not otherwise happen.

So first, we acknowledge the phenomenon. We’re not saying it’s anything more than a really fun game that millions of people are, for the moment, bonkers about playing – including us! Church people have fun, too. 

To say it a different way: "we get it." We're connected to our culture, too. It might not be as big of a deal to us as it is to you, but we get it. 

But even more importantly, setting up a nice welcome at our locations is a posture thing. The church welcomes anyone and everyone, whether it’s on Sunday morning for worship services, or Tuesday afternoon trying to catch that elusive Pikachu.

Just like it says on the Grace Chapel welcome brochure: “We’re glad you’re here!”

Okay, so now you're might be excited about playing. If so, here's a quick overview of how it works:

Posted by Jared Willey with

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