Level Up Church, Memphis, like many churches, was started to reach the unreached in a region. However, pastor Jacob McAnally had a vision for more than just the city of Memphis. He had a vision for gamers.
McAnally said God gave him the vision for the church while he was virtually attending BlizzCon, a convention held by Blizzard Entertainment to promote its gaming franchises. McAnally was impressed by how many people were attending the convention in person, between 20,000 and 30,000. Then, he realized that over eight million were tuning in online like he was.
“It just kind of hit me you know, they’re lost,” he said. “And it began to really weigh on me. Not only are these people lost, but most churches wouldn’t have the first idea about how to reach them.”
McAnally, associate pastor of Boulevard Baptist, Southaven, Miss. at the time, had already used his role as the host in an online game called World of Warcraft to pray for people and lead them to the Lord.
“I never really thought any more about it other than I’m a Christian. Everywhere I go, I take Jesus with me,” he said. “But as I began praying and I began asking God, it was just weighing on me. Lord who’s going to reach these people?”
The answer? “You can.”
Level Up started with six people. Now, the average attendance is around 20, McAnally said. One challenge the church faces is regular attenders who have not gotten over the “hump” to become members.
However, the church has seen growth in other ways. People who have given up on the church often find a home at Level Up.
“They haven’t necessarily given up on God, but they’ve given up on the church. And we’re just so strange and different, they just come show up sometimes,” McAnally said. “They’re not necessarily involved in this (gaming) community, they’re just glad to have something authentic and different and Christ-centered.”
McAnally said there has also been a softening in the gaming community toward the church. About a month ago, one convention in Memphis gave the church a free booth and four free passes to promote their ministry.
“I wish I could tell you that 100 people have been saved,” McAnally said. “But it’s a hard road because these people are so skeptical of the church, and they’ve been harmed, in many cases, so deeply by the church.
Along with the general skepticism toward church, Level Up also deals with other challenges of reaching gamers, specifically their social awkwardness.
“(Gamers) tend to be socially awkward, one of the reasons they get into whether it’s gaming or comic books or anime or cosplaying or whatever,” McAnally said.
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Source: Baptist Press