This is a book that comes out in the midst of a pandemic that is forcing churches to be MORE digital. It seems a bit out of place, but it is helpful even in this time.
In an era in American Christianity where the common language seems to be digital, this type of book can seem out of step. We have multisite churches. We have online only churches. We can “go to church” any time we like and listen to the greatest preachers we admire. We can even listen to our favorite worship band from one church and a pastor from another.
Jay Kim even pastors a multisite church and makes a case for analog. How different is that?
He has done enough in ministry with megachurches and multisite churches that he offers up a warning. We can have an unchecked pursuit of relevance and that has repercussions. It changes how we think about “worship” and how we understand “community.”
We don’t need more replication in ministry. We need THOUGHT.
We have created consumers and we need to lead people back to the life of the body of Christ.
In spite of the rise of multisite churches and more digital experiences, Kim’s claim is people are hungry for human experiences. The church should lead them back to those experiences.
He lays out the “digital values” we see today:
This has resulted in us being impatient, shallow, and isolated. We lack steadiness and long term perspective in our lives and then we isolate ourselves.
All of this is being exposed in the worst way during this time of isolation in the coronavirus pandemic.
We really do need human experience.
But in this world we can have “experience” anytime and anywhere. Church seems an impediment to that if Kim is saying we need to BE TOGETHER. The temptation of the church is then to simply adapt to everyone’s desires. Bring “church” to them. Let them log on when they want and listen when they want.
The American Church needs to be a steady hand calling for experience and leading people in it. We should be gathering when the world is scattering. We need to slow folks down as the world keeps speeding up.
It takes time to produce fruit. This is a call to slow down and lead people into a season of bearing fruit.
Kim builds his case around this pairing:
The Church doesn’t need to shy away from digital. It just shouldn’t be going “all in” with digital.
Kim covers three key areas to recapture the analog experience.
First is WORSHIP.
We have let “worship” be collapsed in the song set we sing. Or, more actually, the song set we watch the professionals perform on the stage during the light and fog show.
(An aside: There are so many feeds I watch go live on a Sunday morning now because I am waiting for our church to go live. One church I have seen go live a couple of times has probably a full size worship team going at it on the stage and even in an empty sanctuary, they were running the fog machine!)
When it comes to worship, Kim’s claim is we need whole body participation. We don’t need people kicked back with their lattes watching the professionals. The church needs to remind people that worship is a WHOLE body experience.
Churches leaning too much to the digital, even in the sanctuary full of people, can be found making the SCREEN the center of worship. When the music is playing, the screen isn’t just giving you the words to the song, it is giving you shots of the band… which, of course, you can see right in front of you.
The call is to move away from the rock concert mentality and get people involved with their whole being again.
As Kim puts it: we can often be too busy seeking the next big thing and end up missing the next RIGHT thing.
Second, Kim focuses on COMMUNITY.
Digital has been giving us the illusion of being together. What we are experiencing in this age is another Tower of Babel. We give the illusion we are coming together to accomplish something great, but it only collapses on us and scatters us.
We must learn to gather and journey for the long haul. Digital allows us “unfriend.” Analog puts us among people and we have to walk through the hard stuff with everyone looking. But that is the lie. It’s not everyone looking. It is everyone WALKING WITH US.
We cannot allow church to become “content” that is just something we access from anywhere. Online presence is good. Being together is critical.
Third, Kim talks about SCRIPTURE.
We have made Scripture quick and accessible. I use digital Bible tools and love it. I can haul an entire library around on my phone and get right to Bible study. There is an upside to the digital use. Kim doesn’t say only analog is good.
What is needed is to recapture the WHOLE picture of the story. We need to take the long journey together.
This is a refreshing book for our time.
As I read it I can’t help but think of the journey of my own life. I grew up Pentecostal and had a hybrid of the fundamentalist/evangelical stream of the church. My journey has taken me into the life of spiritual formation more and more and I find myself in the Anglican Church now.
Each of the things Kim discusses in this book are areas of strength in sacramental churches. Evangelicals have far tougher issues with being together in analog because there isn’t the same view of the Eucharist or baptism or the Church. The digital age accentuates that gap.
For instance, our church didn’t have a “digital presence” for its worship services. They have learned on the fly how to do worship live remotely on Sunday mornings. (They have done a marvelous job doing it, too.) But, we all long to get back together because in this time we have not had the Eucharist. The Eucharist is sacramental. Worship together is meaningful. We LONG to worship together on a Sunday.
The long overview of Scripture is also something that is tackled within the liturgy of sacramental churches because the lectionary readings take us on a long journey through the entire Scripture together over the course of three years.
Then there is the church calendar so we walk through seasons of the church year.
There are ready answers for what Kim is calling for in the sacramental tradition. I know there will always be an evangelical stream in the U.S. and the world. Yet, we can all learn from each other!
This is a needed book for this time.