Salvation Army gaming ministry reaches people where they are—online playing video games
Northwest Division’s ‘Friday Night Game Night’ offers fun and fellowship to all
The Salvation Army got creative in its outreach ministries in 2020, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. One ministry, the Northwest Division’s “Friday Night Game Night,” designed for youth, welcomes all who want to interact with others by playing video games. It takes place the fourth Friday of each month at 8 p.m. Pacific time.
Lt. Steve Pavlakis, Divisional Youth and Candidates’ Secretary (DYS) for The Salvation Army Northwest Division, made a confession.
“I have always been a ‘gamer’ but never liked to admit it because it wasn’t viewed as something an ‘adult’ was supposed to be into,” he said. “But 2020 became the year to really shine in this avenue.”
In March 2020, the pandemic hit and schools shut down. Suddenly, unable to hang out in person with their friends, kids had nothing to do. For many, video games filled that void. According to Pavlakis, video game sales in the United States skyrocketed nearly 75 percent in April 2020, leveling out to an increase of 23 percent by the end of the year.
“When chatting with other officers and corps members on Xbox Live Chat, I heard so many people share how they were craving fellowship, and as DYS, I met more and more people who were surprised and excited to hear that I played the same games as they did,” Pavlakis said.
Pavlakis and the other officers he had been playing with—Major Bob Louangamath, Captain Brandon Kyle and Lt. Travis Yardley—decided it would be great to meet people where they were, online, playing video games.
“Gaming ministry is important for the same reason any ministry is important; it is about the people and building relationships,” Captain Brandon Kyle said. “[That] means we have to go where people already are, listen to them and invest time with them.”
Kyle noted three significant points about gaming ministry: it is immediately personal, it is engaging and it offers the opportunity to build lasting relationships.
Pavlakis added another important point.
“The best part was, The Salvation Army didn’t have to spend money; everyone met from the safety of their home and met virtually on the gaming platform,” he said. “So that was the start of ‘Friday Night Game Night’ hosted by the Northwest Division.”
After creating a Discord channel, through which they could communicate with everyone, they extended an invitation to play via Facebook, Instagram and word of mouth. Around 30 people showed up for the first Game Night, signing on from New York to Alaska and even the Marshall Islands.
“We had officers, employees, corps members and their friends, and people who had no connection whatsoever to The Salvation Army,” Pavlakis said. “We met on the voice chat through Discord for a welcome devotion—it was the first devotion that a few of them had ever heard before—and prayer before the game started. There were officers who shared with me that they had opportunities to minister and pray with other players.”
It’s not just guys who show up for Game Night; girls are gamers, too. Pavlakis said about 20 percent of the participants are female.
Louangamath referred to online video gaming as the new “open-air ministry”; it’s just virtual now. He cited OneZeroMedium.com, which said an estimated 2.5 billion gamers worldwide spend around six hours a week playing games.
“During COVID-19, that number has significantly increased,” Louangamath said. “This is a largely unreached community of God’s people who may be without church or who may not have the opportunity to know Christ. With support from THQ’s [Territorial Headquarters] Youth Department, the Northwest Division has created an opportunity to serve a community of gamers for Jesus.”
Pavlakis spoke of one youth who used to attend the Reno (Nevada) Corps. Although he longer attended the corps, he heard about the gaming opportunity and joined independently. He had a great time and kept coming each month. He has since reconnected with the Reno Corps and participates in their youth activities.
Currently, the group plays Call of Duty: Warzone, which rose to great popularity, especially during COVID, for people of all ages.
“We realize there is a stigma with video gamers, especially with the game that we chose to play, because it is a war-based game, but seeing as how there were 100 million people logging on at one time in that game, it was the best place to meet people where they were at in an avenue they felt comfortable in and in a positive atmosphere we could create,” Pavlakis said.
The group does enforce its rules, including no foul language, bullying or poor sportsmanship, to ensure it maintains a positive, loving atmosphere.
While this is a ministry opportunity for young adults, some participants fall outside that bracket, on both the young side and the older side. Permission slips are secured from parents for the younger gamers.
“In the eight months that we have been hosting this ministry, we have had almost 300 different people participate with us, with an average of 33 each meeting” Pavlakis said. Recently they tried a trivia night, with what Pavlakis called a “decent amount of participants.” He said they hope to continue expanding the games they play to incorporate more gamers in their “family.”
“Gaming as a medium for ministry will continue to grow and develop in new ways but the people and their desire for relationship and response to the gospel are eternal,” Kyle said.
- Lt. Samantha Hascall shares how she found faith in a video game.
- What cause best fits your personality? Take our quiz and discover where you can make the biggest impact today in the Fight for Good.
- It’s because of people like you that The Salvation Army can serve more than 31 million Americans in need each year. (That’s almost one person every second, every day.) Your gift helps The Salvation Army fight for good all year in your community. It’s an effort to build well-being for all of us, so together we rise. And that good starts with you. Give to spread hope with a donation of funds, goods or time today.