The idea of the church being more than just a place but, rather, a movement has become a rallying cry of congregations across the country. To say COVID-19 has played a role in this would be a gross understatement. The truth, of course, is that finding innovative ways to extend the movement beyond the traditional four walls has remained a constant ― and necessary ― challenge for churches.
Since its beginning, establishing a presence in the community has been at the core of Melbourne, Florida-based Victory Church’s mission. Pastor Stanley Patton and his wife, Melissa, have formed multiple entities through the Victory brand, including a childcare center, youth sports programs, seasonal camps and after-school programs coordinated with school districts throughout Brevard County.
Through its Victory Kid Sports division, the couple’s latest venture is an app-accessible game in which kids can walk through the Bible in an allegorical fashion, ultimately arriving at a heavenly place called Victory City.
C.S. Lewis meets young gamers
Before the pandemic, the Pattons had the idea of, as Stanley likes to put it, “appifying,” or recording and sharing the movements, workouts and other components of their sports camps in a public setting. These 30-minute videos included a “victory moment,” modeled after the fruits of the Spirit and implemented through Victory Kid Sports’ school-based programs.
Out of the videos, which have since been used by school districts and other groups in the community, the Pattons saw an opportunity to extend technology beyond sports and into the video game market.
“We wondered, ‘What if we could take excerpts of the Bible and really focus on the Bible’s storyline but do it in a way that people don’t really know what it is?’” Stanley remembers.
The result? The gospel message, in the vein of C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien, but in a video game.
Master Soldier: Defender of Victory begins in a dystopian world, a place Stanley describes as a garden overrun by an enemy. The main character progresses through multiple levels, including a desert, a promised land, an ancient temple and a prophet’s cave.
Throughout the journey, players battle various bosses while trying to find a master who once ran the world. Locating this savior-like figure will lead to order being restored and the player reaching the aforementioned Victory, complete with streets of gold.
Each level is designed to hit that sweet spot for kids elementary-aged through middle school: not too difficult to move through but challenging enough to take some time and effort.
That simplistic nature, Stanley says, reflects the game’s true purpose.
“We wanted the opportunity for believers playing the game to be able to explain things to non-believers and have conversations through it,” he said. “If we had just come out and said, ‘Hey, this is a Bible thing,’ then I think we would only have attracted a certain audience. We wanted something useful to a variety of groups in our communities.”
Innovating in a world not known for innovation
Proximity to NASA and its overall educational presence has raised the bar for the innovation the Pattons wanted to offer their congregation and community, including employees of the various space program facilities.
“Churches are normally not known for innovation,” Stanley said. “We normally do traditional, and that’s what we do well, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But this is an industry that’s an untapped market.”
One member of the target market for Master Soldier: Defender of Victory is none other than the Pattons’ 9-year-old son, Mason. The obvious benefit, of course, is the immediate feedback Mason provides, but Melissa sees a greater value in those discussions.
“Based on working with thousands of kids across the country, children lack social and emotional learning,” she said. “So, the awesome part of this game is that it creates an opportunity to have a conversation with him (Mason) about why he is trying to get to victory.
“That is the approach we take when we’re having conversations with anybody: How do we get to victory? As we like to say, ‘Victory in Christ, victory in life.
Churches are normally not known for innovation. We normally do traditional, and that's what we do well and there's nothing wrong with that. But this is an industry that's an untapped market.
This goes back to the original mission of Victory. The Pattons operate four entities under the Victory brand, of which the actual church is the only religiously affiliated organization. Regardless of entity, environment or medium, the Victory message has always been told in an allegorical way.
“Everything we’ve created and started at Victory, whether a secular or faith-based program, has the ultimate goal to use it to have a conversation,” Melissa says. “Whether we’re using sports or a video game, or a fitness app, it’s not about hitting someone on the head with the Bible. It’s about the process of building a relationship.
Finding unique ways to share the gospel
And that’s where the experience of Victory’s other entities is so valuable: having the template by which they can connect with kids in a multitude of ways and at a variety of levels.
“Relationship capital,” as Stanley sees it, is Victory’s path to a fruitful connection with the community.
“We’re giving people exactly what we’re supposed to give them as the light of the world,” Stanley said of the entire Victory movement. “We just have to utilize the tools in front of us.”
The Pattons expect to release Master Soldier: Defender of Victory this summer to the public. The holdup, Stanley admits, is the perfectionist in him. The Pattons have always subscribed to the “Do It Yourself” theory, but Melissa jokingly acknowledged that they might have to employ outside help.
Fortunately, relationships with the community should help spread the word about the game. So, besides word of mouth within the church, Victory’s toes dip into enough pools to expose its latest venture to a diverse audience.
“We didn’t develop this just to talk to people who are saved,” Melissa said. “Our goal is to find a way to pull people in who don’t know Jesus to find unique ways to share the gospel with them.”
Troy Emenecker, Guest writer
Troy Emenecker is a freelance writer for Converge. He attends a Converge church in Mesa, Arizona.