Missions Week: Gamecell, or How To Become A Missionary To Your Basement

I discovered that I could do “mission trips” in my own home. And that I could focus on video games. Yeah, I’m still as surprised about it as you are. The best part? You can do it too!

It started with a simple fact: wherever I am, that’s my mission field. I don’t have to go anywhere. I can bring the Kingdom wherever I stand. And that can include video games.

What’s a Gamecell?

Gamecell is the name for these “mission trips” I take to my basement. We meet in the living room when the guys arrive. We talk about life, God, and games. Then we head downstairs to play games, new guys first.

It could have been a bait-and-switch thing. “Come play games!” and then under my breath, “You’ll have to read the Bible! Bwahahahaha.” But that’s not who I am.

I’m kinda into games (if that wasn’t already obvious). I love investing in young guys. And I love Jesus. So I’m up front about all that, and that we bust the Bible out in Gamecell. I tell them they can feel free to express their opinions on why they think God’s dumb or whatever. I just want to listen.

Listening is probably the most important part of it. I factored it into our play time, which I call “show and tell:” the new person picks any game they like. They play for thirty minutes while the rest of us watch and try to help. The time limit ensures that maximum number of dudes get to play. If someone picks a multiplayer game, that works too. But that decision is up to the player who’s at the helm for that half hour.

These guys aren’t all Christians. And if they are, they’re still figuring out what that means. I met almost all of them at the rec center I volunteer at, and our relationships started around the same things: Halo and Super Smash Bros.

From Game Compulsion to Game Outreach

I struggled with games. I’d try to go for a long time not playing them, and then I’d go kinda stir crazy before long if I didn’t play something good. It sometimes became a cycle of buying and trashing. I was convinced that they took more than they offered.

Then I discovered a healthy game-life balance. Being married and having responsibilities helped with all that, but one of the biggest helps was using games as a way to connect with guys at the youth center my wife directs, 18 South.

The problem with our youth center is that guys age out. They graduate and then where do they go?

We can invite them to our church stuff. But that’s not remotely similar and largely isn’t fun. Especially for those who don’t connect with the “God thing.”

One guy stuck around my church, but still didn’t seem to connect. I realized he needed something: somebody to give attention to his interests and simply listen. So for months we’d get together every two weeks and talk about life and play Borderlands 2.

Around that same time, I realized that some video games were growing up. Journey showed me that games could capture moments I had only seen in times of worship. And I went back to Braid and noticed it was about the futility of trying to erase your own mistakes. So I started writing about them. I joined the ranks of GameChurch and aligned with the beautiful humans behind Theology Gaming.

Then I went with GameChurch to PAX East, the biggest videogame expo on the East Coast. We gave away three thousand gamer bibles (Gospel of John with gamer commentary) and told strangers Jesus loved them. Might sound weird or lame. But it was the most exciting ministry stuff I had done in a while. Here were people who were confused by God (or in some cases, just hated him), taking these weird bibles with a “gamer Jesus” on the cover and getting curious.

Stir, Align, and Start

When I got back home, I sat and thought about how I could connect with gamers on the subject of God in a similar way. I still got together with my dudes and played games every two weeks. We still talked about life. But God came up more. We even prayed together. Then another guy wanted to hang out. So I said, “sure.” We tried new games. And got together again. It was turning into a regular hangout.

My pastor invited me to breakfast and asked, “What do you think of starting a Gamecell?” I looked at him, “So you heard about me having guys coming over, playing games, and talking about God?” He smiled, “Actually, I had no clue! But the fact that you’re already doing it is pretty awesome!” He gave me his full support. The congregation got behind us. Then we had a commissioning and ate cake.

Gamecell began. Every week four-to-six guys would show up at my house to talk and play games. GameChurch provided me with gamer bibles and fancy swag to give out. The gospel of John turned out to be a great tool for triggering conversation. We played a ton of games. And I chronicled each Gamecell on my personal blog.

You Can Too

Gamecell isn’t mine. The name came down the line from somebody else in my network of churches who was doing it completely differently. Though there were more “I”s and “me”s in this post than preferable, it’s most important that you know Gamecell can be yours too. It’ll look different. It’ll probably have a different name. Since my church is a cell church and cell groups are (like biological cells) all about multiplication, that’s why I call it what I do. You might have a multiplayer meetup, a game group, or just a bunch of guys who get together and talk about games, God, and things that matter.

You might have to find a youth center to find folks who are into games. Or you might come up with something I couldn’t possibly imagine. I wish I could hand you a blueprint and say “copy & paste.” But it’ll be different for everybody.

The best way to start is to tell God you want to do this. Then keep talking to him about it. He’ll direct your path.

About M. Joshua Cauller

M. Joshua is a missionary to his basement — where he leads a videogames-and-spiritaul-formation group called GameCell. He makes indie game trailers by day, which you can see at mjoshua.com. You can also follow him on Twitter.