I’ll be transparent . At first, the notion of “church online,” while frustrating and not ideal, felt better than simply nothing. At least people could worship in their homes, hear a sermon each week, and stay “connected.” But as time has gone on, I feel the discontent grow within me. I feel the exasperation of not being truly gathered. I feel isolated from Christian community. I feel more disengaged from worship than ever. And if I, as a pastor, feel this way, what is the average churchgoer feeling? And, perhaps more importantly, why do we feel this way?
Analog Church helps to answer the “why?” behind these feelings that I (and maybe yourself) have dealt with in this season. It sheds light on the ways that digital church, while a gift to the Church in many ways, ultimately falls short as a substitute for the Church as gathered, incarnational, and spatial.
Prior to the pandemic, many congregations have prioritized “going digital” to enhance an overall worship experience. From livestreams to lecterns to lighting boards, our gatherings have become digitized, even going as far as to scatter us from one another, in the name of multi-site.
We can make our logic sound spiritual to ease our conscience. We’re “creating an intimate atmosphere for worship,” or “making the gospel more easily accessible to more people.” But if we are not careful, good intentions easily morph into swimming along with the spirit of the culture, and leaving the Spirit himself behind.
Jay Kim does a great job of exposing some of these digital impulses and, without discrediting them entirely, explains their insufficiency to mirror a gathered, present, embodied people. Kim asserts, “we must critically examine and consider if in our churches we’ve succumbed to the cultural temptation of emphasizing spectacle over substance” (62-63).
One of his most compelling examples is the modern treatment of the sermon, how it has treated what was meant to be a witnessing experience into a watching experience (67). He recalls a moment when preaching that he was encouraged to “look directly into the camera at the back of the room so the campuses feel connected to you” (47).
This is not the kind of worship we were made for — tethered by text or digital renderings of image-bearers. Only an analog approach to church can help us truly flourish in Christ’s community. “Being shoulder to shoulder and blocking out time in our busy schedules to focus on a particular goal—alongside others who share the same goal—keeps us motivated, encouraged, challenged, and leads to transformation. None of this can be replicated online” (116).
This book not only legitimizes the ache we may be feeling in these days, but it helps us see that (Lord willing) when we gather together again, we cannot afford to take the analog components of church life for granted. The Lord is “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Col. 4:3), not at the expense of technology, but neither subservient to it. Analog Church is a great book for church leaders to consider as they return to services and weigh their digital presence in the next season of ministry.