Catie Dexter is a different kind of evangelist. “The gaming community is definitely a community that’s got some lost people that need Christ,” she says.
Millions of people log onto Twitch every month to broadcast live video — most of them streaming games like League of Legends or Rocket League. Some use it to organize sporting events or political discussions. But a small and growing community of creators is using Twitch to reach gamers on behalf of Jesus Christ. Dexter is the chief operating officer of God Mode Activated (GMA), a group dedicated to “activating gamers in faith.”
Initially founded in 2018, GMA’s stated goal is to create a community for both believers and nonbelievers to experience Christianity in the context of gaming. Dexter, also known by her Twitch handle Catastrophic, described the ministry’s approach to OneZero as a “network” of GMA affiliates, each of whom is offered free rein to stream whatever games they like — as long as they use their Twitch platform to share Christian content and encourage their audiences to join the GMA Discord server. Sometimes, affiliates hold Bible studies on their streams. In other instances, gamers gather impromptu on the GMA Discord server to chat about personal life while playing games together.
Pastors and evangelists, some of them genuine gamers themselves, are taking to the video game streaming platform because it represents a new mission field for approaching people with the Gospel. It’s also well suited to fellowshipping — a Christian term for hanging out — with Fortniters and Fall Guys streamers alike. And there are a lot of people hanging out: In 2019, an estimated 2.5 billion gamers worldwide spent around six hours a week playing games, and Covid-19 has significantly increased that number. To Christians looking to evangelize others online, that degree of lifestyle dedication makes Twitch the perfect platform to approach what’s known as an “unreached people group” — a community with no churches or missionaries serving them.
The emergence of this trend was unexpected. “Mainstream gaming culture is not a particularly religion-friendly place,” Kevin Schut, PhD, a professor of media and communications at Trinity Western University who wrote Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games, tells OneZero. “Gaming culture is all about play. Churches are cultures of the book, of the Bible. Churches are about authority and systems and organization. Gaming? Less so.”
“Churches are about authority and systems and organization. Gaming? Less so.”
Now platforms like Twitch, which allow evangelists to speak directly with gamers, are helping bridge the communication gap. Some GMA affiliates, for example, use their streams as opportunities to preach directly to viewers. Dustin Phillips is a blond-haired, bearded children’s pastor in Texas who also serves as GMA’s CEO. On Twitch, he goes by the handle PastorDoostyn and is known as the “demon-slaying pastor.” He preaches the gospel to his 1,400 followers while streaming games like Doom and Pokemon. While sharing the gospel is one aim of GMA, Phillips tells OneZero, it also strives to create a safe space for gamers of all affiliations to gather. Phillips is a member of Assembly of God, a conservative denomination with an emphasis on Pentecostal beliefs, like speaking in tongues and baptizing in the Holy Spirit, but GMA affiliates represent many denominations. Despite the differences in theology, Phillips has found that GMA appeals to all sorts of Christians. That appeal has built them a community of thousands, with several people streaming and playing games almost every day.
“We have people with a wide variety of beliefs, traditions, interpretations, which is actually one of my favorite things about GMA,” he says.
Several other licensed preachers and amateur evangelists present themselves as Christian role models on Twitch. One has even gone as far as to create a Twitch-based church: The Reverend Matthew Souza, who has short hair, a wide smile, and enthusiastic energy, started streaming as a pastor in 2014 and eventually used his popular platform of 18,000 followers to found GodSquad Church, a ministry that aims to “Connect Gamers to God by meeting them where they are.” The church hosts several online worship services over the weekend, a yearly online convention, game-themed sermons, and a physical church site in Virginia that offers a chance to gather in person. Souza, like GMA, takes an approachable and communitarian approach to faith on Twitch, which may account for their wide appeal. Schut notes that these organizations “don’t major on the hot-button issues that tend to divide evangelical Christians from the secular public” Rather, he explains, they offer key doctrines explaining who God and Jesus are, defining them with a “very minimalistic message meant to be as broadly inclusive as possible.” This way, they do not create fodder for criticism from people who are less open to Christian ideas.
Others, however, adopt a more fundamentalist methodology to reach gamers. Joseph Hennig, known as DrWitnesser on Twitch, typically logs onto Fortnite in the mornings wearing a black button-down, an orange tie, and his headphones. Compared to Souza and Doostyn, who dress more casually in order to stream “as they are,” Hennig offers the appearance of a far more serious streamer. He’s amassed 119,000 followers.
When Hennig began streaming in 2018, he focused on gameplay and crowd interactions — not personal faith, he tells OneZero. But after some time, he says, he realized that spending countless hours playing a game was not aligned with good Christian discipline, so he stopped streaming to focus on his religious studies. Hennig is a Seventh Day Adventist, a denomination that holds conservative views of science, creation, and sexuality.
During his break from streaming, Hennig still watched Twitch streams and wondered how they could be used to evangelize. Doing so through chat would be difficult, he thought, because chats moved so quickly that meaningful questions could easily get buried. In 2019, he tried hosting a Twitch stream where he answered questions about the Bible and recommended resources from other ministries, but he says he soon felt compelled to do more. “I felt God kind of poking me, saying, ‘You know, take your ministry further, go back to where you came from, and minister to people in that field,’” he says. “And so I did.”
In April 2020, Hennig became DrWitnesser. Influenced by Dr. Disrespect, a well-known professional streamer, and Ray Comfort, an Evangelical evangelist and minister known for his on-the-street witnessing practices, the DrWitnesser approach to evangelization is more direct and aggressive than that of GMA or Souza. In the streaming sessions I watched, Hennig joined a random squad of fellow Fortniters, often teens or young adults gaming with their friends. He stayed in-game to talk with players who had mics, informing them that he goes into games to talk about the Gospel. Once players stated they were okay with it, he began to talk about the afterlife and God’s existence, sparking conversation with questions like “Are you going to heaven?” or “Have you committed a sin?” Sometimes, when games ended, he encouraged people to visit his website or look at the Bible for themselves. In multiple instances, he had theological disagreements with people with different beliefs, including people who identify as Jehovah’s Witnesses or as Muslims. A few players even responded with trolling, aggressive cursing, or passionate arguing, making the stream uncomfortable to watch. But in the majority of streams I viewed, most people seemed willing to listen, but not necessarily to agree.
“They’re surprisingly thirsty to hear about what the Bible says about the afterlife and what you know when you die.”
Hennig’s approach has occasionally gotten him in trouble. In mid-July, the DrWitnesser Twitch channel received a seven-day ban for “targeting others with repeated or severe personal abuse.” The evidence for the claim was a clip of Hennig telling a Muslim teen that he would end up in Hell because he had not accepted Christ.
Schut notes that Hennig’s approach is confrontational and often resembles the culture war narrative that Evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham tend to offer to their followers. “I think a lot of people would follow someone like [DrWitnesser] because he’s comfort food. He reaffirms the beliefs they have about the ‘us versus them’ narrative.”
But Hennig claims the people he talks to do not seem to mind what he’s doing. “I’m just surprised by the massive amount of kids and adults who respond,” he says. “They’re just like, ‘Yeah, I want to hear about this.’ They’re surprisingly thirsty to hear about what the Bible says about the afterlife and what you know when you die.” He says he has also received several follow-up DMs about personal and theological issues, like whether marijuana is prohibited by scripture and whether sleeping with a girlfriend is acceptable.
Still, to Hennig, Twitch is ultimately just a tool. “The only reason why I’m playing is to really, really take the gospel to gamers,” he says. “If there were no game, I would just be door knocking.”