Minecraft is the best-selling video game of all time, with popularity among fans from ages six to infinity (as our kids put it). Its creativity and collaborative ethos make it an exciting space for church, as we’ve noted here before. But Minecraft also provides a striking example of communication that reaches all ages. Mojang, the games company that develops Minecraft, uses annual Minecraft Live events to communicate with its fanbase. We watched the Minecraft Live event on Saturday 3 October, and want to tell you about some of the great lessons we can draw from it about effective all-age communication.
- Build anticipation! It’s an Event with a big ‘E’ because we’ve been told well in advance that it is happening; and that gave us time to prepare and invest in getting excited about it, and in so doing, feel part of a community of people who share that excitement. If Mojang simply put out a video and then promoted it, it wouldn’t be An Event in nearly the same way. Because Minecraft Live had been trailed across Youtube, Twitter and elsewhere for weeks, by the time of the event, millions of people across the world had gathered to watch, people had made plans with their Minecraft-playing friends, there were Minecraft outfits, games consoles were charged, snacks were ready. Then the countdown ….. 3-2-1-Welcome! There’s no reason we can’t bring a bit of this energy to our church services and events. For big events you should definitely be promoting them well in advance, and regularly, up to the day of the event. But why not share your excitement about your service coming up this Sunday? Make it a regular practice to use your social media to put out a reminder about this week’s service. Think about where the different parts of your congregation get their information — are you able to reach everyone? A notice about next week’s service in the pew sheet probably won’t be read by children. So how about saying a few sentences before the end of this week’s service. We knew Minecraft Live was happening because our kids told us; they had seen it promoted in the spaces (Youtube and Minecraft) that they spend more time interacting with than we do.
- Appreciate and include your fans! Mojang’s Minecraft Live event included significant inputs from its fanbase. Notably, throughout the event, a vote by viewers was being conducted in two rounds to decide which Mob/character would next be introduced to the game. This chance to vote for the newest Mob was in fact the main reason our kids wanted to watch Minecraft Live, but once they were watching, they got really excited about everything else. This was audience engagement that really hit the mark in terms of encouraging the fanbase to feel that their views are valuable to Mojang; “Minecraft is made for its fans”. And similarly, don’t we want people to feel that Church is made for them? Obviously this is something that is built up over time, but it is worth reflecting on whether there are small ways this message can be reinforced in each service. It would be great if we can find things that everyone can participate in, whatever their age, level of church engagement, gender, language or skills. For example, something as simple as asking people what their favourite hymn was in the service, which only requires an opinion and a hand to stick in the air; whether it’s the first time that person has been to church or whether they’ve been going for 40 years.
- Tell your people about your values as an organisation. You become relevant to people’s day-to-day lives if you speak about issues that are important in their world “out there”. Mojang is a gaming company, and its fanbase was mostly watching to hear about updates to Minecraft. However, Mojang used the live event to speak about their significant donation to the NAACP Legal Defence Fund in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, their new Minecraft Education lesson series “Good Trouble” on equity and diversity, and about their work with the UN’s Habitat project. By responding to events in the real world, Mojang is seen to be alongside its fans in sharing their concerns, even while being essentially a game about escaping into a fictional, creative world.
- Authenticity beats perfect. Mojang is run by amazing developers and creators, many of whom came from the Minecraft fanbase, and their commitment to, and passion for, Minecraft shines in their presentations, eclipsing their sense of overwhelm, or slight nervousness, and giggling, and sometimes struggling to find words. Giving people a platform to speak, whether or not it’s as polished and practised as your best speakers, reflects respect for diversity and for the unique combination of skills and insights that everyone brings. The more people see others being authentic more than perfect, the more accessible and democratic the community feels to everyone.
Okay, obviously we’re not suggesting you start keeping llamas, or mining emeralds in your church just yet, but Minecraft Live highlights some things to reflect on as we consider how we make spaces welcoming to people of every age.
Here’s a couple of other ways we’ve explored Minecraft in the context of church that you might find interesting. We’re so grateful to our kids for introducing us to this wonderful, zany world!