What the church could learn from a trip to the retro arcade

As a child, some of my favorite Friday nights consisted of eating a chili dog and playing video games at the Double Dip Depot (RIP, dear Chattanooga institution). On my family’s semi-regular trips to Gatlinburg in the 1980s and 1990s, the arcade was always one of the highlights.

So I am not complaining that retro arcades seem to be popping up everywhere. Recently I took my 6-year-old, who has not yet been so exposed to modern gaming as to be unimpressed by 30-year-old technology. As we enjoyed our ALL-YOU-CAN-PLAY PASS (!), it occurred to me that these machines might have some wisdom to offer those of us in the vocation of ministry.

Asteroids. Just like those church programs that are no longer effective but you still feel obligated to offer, you only play this game for the nostalgia factor. (I mean, come on, it’s barely a step up from Pong.) Memories are central to who we are collectively and individually, but we don’t need to spend too much time living in them. And yes, I recognize the irony of hating on nostalgia while celebrating the return of retro arcades.

Centipede. Getting a high score on this game means being able to focus on the movements of the centipede while keeping an eye on – but not being too distracted by – the spiders falling on you. Similar to how you have to keep the big picture in front-of-mind even as you plan the details for individual ministries.

Cruis’n USA. Counterintuitively, you don’t finish the race in first by flooring the gas pedal the whole game. You’ve got to ease off in the curves, or else you’ll spin out. Churches often don’t take enough time to breathe and reflect, they just speed ahead and run out of time and energy. Same goes for clergy.

Pinball. There’s a lot of waiting and watching in pinball. The player has to be ready to hit the flipper buttons when the ball heads down the play field, but dynamics largely beyond the player’s control bounce the ball around in the meantime. Beating on the button when the game is out of your hands just wears you out and makes you frustrated. Churches do this a lot by measuring and fretting over numbers they can’t do much about instead of looking for the right opportunity to make an impact.

Ms. Pac-Man. You’ve got to have a plan when you play Ms. Pac Man, or you’ll get yourself eaten in a hurry. Congregations without a sense of direction will devour their volunteers and resources, with nothing much to show for it.

What retro game is your church’s culture most like?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

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