Gamification And Game Mechanics In The Church

In my other role as a corporate learning consultant, gamification is big business.

The use of gaming methodology and engineering can have a seriously positive impact in engagement.

The theory is nothing new; in fact we all know that we are more productive when the work we do is fun. The implementation of this is still pretty new, but it is having a profound effect.

Scoreboards, loot boxes, activity streaks and badges are all relatively common, and are now breaking into the world of Church.

The question is, should they?

Bibles apps, such as the brilliant YouVersion have been doing it for a while, and offer Christians the opportunity to track their bible reading and get rewards for reading scripture regularly.

For me, there is nothing wrong with this. It should be celebrated as a way to engage people and encourage them in getting the discipline and rigour of regular reading.

However, as gamification finds its way into other areas of church, I find myself unconvinced of its merits in those areas.

I am aware that I could be accused of being old fashioned in my thinking, but there are some things which ‘may’ be inappropriate.

One app that I am aware of recently is encouraging the tracking of prayer time.

This is more than just logging whether you prayed or not, but actually counting the minutes you spend praying for a specific topic.

Now, as with bible reading, prayer is probably something we all need some extra motivation to do more, and I applaud the thinking of using game mechanics to motivate people. However, I am concerned that it could also bring the wrong behaviour or have unexpected consequences, especially when your prayer time is shared, even anonymously.

Let me explain in a few example scenarios:

Scenario 1:

John has asked for prayer for a personal situation, and uploads the prayer to the app. Other people see John’s prayer, but at the same time, Janet also uploads a prayer. John’s request may or may not be seen or John may not be as popular as Janet, so his prayer only receives 10% of the prayer time that Jane got. How would John feel? It may confirm his thoughts about the others in the church. It may make him feel that his prayer was, in some way, not ‘good enough’.

Scenario 2:

John wants to increase his popularity, and notices that people who are seen to pray more are getting more response on their own prayers. John decides that he can use the game mechanics to show others just how much he is praying, even if he is not. He goes to a prayer, starts the prayer timer, and goes to get breakfast. After 20 minutes or so, he comes back and turns the timer off, and it logs John prayer time. What’s the impact? John is seen as a prayer warrior and gets kudos despite not really engaging. The church adds up all the prayer time, and they feel that the church is praying more and look to celebrate… based on a false set of data.

In my business life, I have learned that data is a funny beast, and you need to be very, very careful what you are measuring, and how you communicate it.

I suppose what I am saying is that I am not against the gamification of prayer, but significant thought needs to go into its implementation.

And don’t even get me started on the GDPR ramifications of measuring prayer! That would be a minefield in its own right, especially as it would definitely fall in to the category of ‘special data’ and carry with it all the extra checks and balances you would need to be in place.

Maybe some things should be left to our own personal relationship with Jesus.

However, I may be wrong.

What do you think? Should gamification be encouraged, banned or carefully implemented?

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The Future Technology and Culture of the Church

The Future Technology and Culture of the Church