Pastor Skar: Meet the man using Fortnite to evangelise
Reaching gamers with the gospel
Imagine you’ve been a youth pastor for eight years – and it’s your lifelong calling. You also love video games and are a tech nerd. And on top of that, you can’t stop talking about what God has done in your life and how he wants to reach out to everyone on the planet before it’s too late.
Well, what would you do? You have to go where young people are hanging out these days. It’s not at church, for most of them. These days, it’s not so much at skate parks either. It’s hunched around a console playing video games.
When Baptist pastor Kiran Skariah discovered there are an estimated 2.5 billion active gamers in the world today – a number that had grown by 200 million in the past year alone – he thought surely there must be someone trying to reach nearly a third of the world’s population with the good news of Jesus Christ.
“If the people are spending their time online, then someone’s got to be in there meeting them.” – Pastor Skar
And when Pastor Skar, as he styles himself, discovered there was no one in this space, he and his wife staked everything on launching a ministry to reach young video gamers with the promise of a better life through faith in Jesus.
“How many churches or ministries do I know that are intentionally reaching evidently one of the largest people groups in the world? None, not one – zero,” he says.
“That’s an issue for me because where the people are is where the gospel needs to be, and if the people are spending their time online, then someone’s got to be in there meeting them at their level, in their world, in their space, to share that message.”
Pastor Skar was alarmed by the negative content that was a standard part of live streams by the major players – Twitch (owned by Amazon), Mixer (owned by Microsoft), Facebook Gaming and YouTube Gaming.
“I’m looking at that as a youth pastor for the last eight years working at my local church and I go, ‘where’s the alternative, where’s the positive family friendly influence, where’s the one that’s talking about God and sharing things of faith in a medium that is very sharable and that people can find?’.”
“I’ve taken the standard youth ministry model – games, sermons, prayer – and said ‘how can I digitise that and make it accessible to everyone?’” – Pastor Skar
Unable to answer his own question, Pastor Skar began running a thrice weekly, four-hour youth group on Twitch – a live-streaming platform for gamers – which replicates in digital form the standard youth group offerings of games, sermons and prayer.
“I’ve taken the standard youth ministry model – games, sermons, prayer – and said ‘how can I digitise that and make it accessible to everyone?’
“So, for example, in our youth group we can play soccer. Now if I’m online you can’t play soccer, but we can play FIFA (video game) and we can have people from around the world competing in that or watching that and all of a sudden we’ve brought in that element but we’ve done it in a way that’s different.”
On every page of the live stream are the words “Skarred, but not broken” to emphasise the message that no matter what trauma or pain or scars people are living with, “you’re not broken because there’s a God who heals and restores, loves and forgives.”
“It’s cool because so many people in our community aren’t Christians, but they’ve found a community that welcomes them.” – Pastor Skar
The main video game they play is Fortnite, with every session ending with prayer. Every Thursday, Pastor Skar opens the Bible in a sermon segment called Real Life.
“That’s where we put the controller down and we say, ‘All right, time to get real and just talk about different things in life.’ I’ll always relate those to stories from my personal life and my walk with God and we always open up God’s word and see what it has to say, and just dialogue that. And it’s cool because so many people in our community aren’t Christians, but they’ve found a community that welcomes them and accepts them.”
From zero followers two years ago, the community has grown to just over 5500 signed-up members – and they’re from all around the world.
“Seeing the way that God has been using that is incredible, especially the fact that they’re from all different walks of life, so we have people that are atheists, we have people that are Muslims.”
Pastor Skar is particularly moved by a strong connection he has formed with a young boy in Indonesia, who had never even met a Christian before.
“When he showed up and saw my name is Pastor Skar, he said, ‘What’s a pastor?’ That’s his level of understanding of anything faith based to do with Christianity because he’s a Muslim – his parents are Muslim, his grandparents are Muslim, that’s his story. But now we’re at a point where when his mum gets sick, he will message me and be like, ‘Hey, my mum’s sick, can you be praying for her?’ And every week, he hears another story about Jesus; every week he hears another story what God has done in my life.
“We open the Bible together every single week. And I love that. Here I am opening the Bible with a young Indonesian boy, who is a Muslim in a different part of the planet, at the same time as an associate pastor from Canada, at the same time as someone from Belgium – and we’re all just in there at the same time.”
Pastor Skar sees his online ministry as supporting the church. He gives the example of a girl in Melbourne whose mother wanted her to go to youth group but she was resisting. Encouraged by Pastor Skar, she tried out the local youth group and loved it. He also sees his work as an adjunct to church, helping youth group members stay fired up about their faith between weekly youth group meetings.
Naturally, the community is continually bombarded by trolls coming online to cause problems, but Pastor Skar says they’ll often end up becoming active members because they are greeted with love rather than condemnation.
“They are so used to having someone swear at them, tell them off, and banning them from the community; but instead we said, ‘Hey, man, I see that your opinion differs from mine and I just want to say that’s totally okay, everyone’s entitled to their opinion, I just want you to know that you’re loved and you’re still welcome here.'”
A surprising thing about the online youth ministry is the diversity of viewers it attracts. Rather than just young people, Christian or otherwise, people in their 40s and 50s are also watching the stream.
When the group held its first Sydney meet-up a few weeks ago, one man flew in from Alice Springs and another man drove from Adelaide just to connect and meet members of the community.
“We actually filmed people saying one sentence about why they are here. I was moved because there are people saying they don’t feel lonely anymore since finding this community; people saying they are understanding God more.
“The thing that I love is these people span age groups, nationalities – it was the most mixed bag bunch of people you would ever meet. You would never get this group hanging out normally. All the extremes. It was beautiful.”
Though it seems that this dynamic evangelist could talk unceasingly about his pioneering ministry, he confesses making it viable is very hard.
“It’s fatiguing because I’m on camera for four hours and that’s considered a short stream – it’s a minimum four hours. In that four-hour window, I can’t take a break, I can’t take a 20-minute walk around, I can’t go to the bathroom or even get a drink.
“I’m sitting there because the nature of the internet is that it’s also quite brutal in the sense that if you are watching a video online and you stop caring, you’re out – no one’s going to see you leave, no one’s going to see you awkwardly get up; you just hit the little ‘X’ and you’re gone, no one knows.”
“We are trusting God with this – even if it means losing the house.” – Pastor Skar
Pastor Skar and his wife have taken a big leap of faith this year. Just as they are about to take on a mortgage, he has quit his paid work as a pastor to concentrate on the video ministry.
“We are trusting God with this – even if it means losing the house, people hearing the gospel is more important than losing a house so we are willing to do that, to default on the mortgage and lose the house if it means that people will come to heaven,” he says.
They’ve already spent thousands of their own money by running giveaways and tournaments, as well as sending a Bible to anyone who wants one to anywhere in the world.
“One thing we’ve been doing from the get-go is free Bibles to anyone that wants one, which my wife and I just paid for ourselves – now that gets harder because our means to do that has halved. And on top of that, we do weekly giveaways with free global postage.”
While sponsors pay for the prizes on non-Christian live streams, Pastor Skar has found it impossible to gain such support.
“Traditional sponsors always seem to have a disclaimer of ‘can’t be religiously affiliated’. I’ve even had people tell me ‘look, if you tone down the Jesus factor a bit, then we are happy to push out your content and sponsor you.’ But my response was ‘I’m not willing to do that because I’m doing this as a ministry, I’m not going to compromise that.’
“That’s when my wife and I turned to each other said ‘okay, well if we can’t get funding, let’s just pay for it ourselves, so every week from our pay cheque we would pay for the giveaways, the postage, the tournaments. And on top of the prize pool of $500, our last tournament had a $250 giveaway for someone who was just watching.”
Understandably, Pastor Skar would love to receive support from the church.
“When I read my Bible, I read about the early church in the Book of Acts and I see their model and it was one where the wide body of believers supported each other, cared for each other, and therefore freed up the Apostles to do what they needed to do. And I thought ‘why would that not be the case now?’ I think we just need to take a step of faith and do that.”
To check out Pastor Skar’s broadcasts visit https://www.twitch.tv/PastorSKAR