I miss church.
I miss the general hum of people chatting in the courtyard on Sunday mornings, hugging without fear.
I miss the rhythm of showing up every week, whether I felt like it or not, because I knew once I got there, I would be glad.
I miss a lot of things about church really, but most of all, I miss partaking in communion.
More than the tiny morsel of bread or the thimble-sized cup from the vine, communion was that moment in the service when everything went quiet and still. That moment when you could lower your head and take a few moments to remember the cross and thank Jesus for the sacrifice he made. That moment when you could confess your trespasses and ask God for his forgiveness. That moment when you could intercede for your family’s most pressing needs.
Then came the virus.
At the beginning of the pandemic, there was so much we didn’t know about this new coronavirus. So, understandably, churches needed to close their doors, and “online church” became the obvious “next best thing.” Some churches were way ahead of the game, with the technological capabilities already in place, while other churches desperately tried to figure it out as they went.
Where I live in Los Angeles County, the schools shut down on March 13, 2020, and most churches followed suit. As did the malls, restaurants, and theaters. Even Amazon stopped shipping books and focused only on delivering food and medical supplies. It was a disorienting time for everyone, especially as the shelves of grocery stores were completely barren.
Then on March 31, 2020, a small gift quietly entered the world — a little paperback with an ironic title: Analog Church: Why We need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age by Jay Y. Kim.
Right when the whole country closed its physical doors and went online, a book was released with a counter message: Go analog.
In the publishing world, these things happen. For example, some authors released books on September 11, 2001, but other news was far more urgent. Analog Church, of course, was written months before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19. The author never could have predicted that almost every church in America would go completely online just weeks before his book was released, but God clearly wanted these printed words to reach a hurting world at precisely that moment in time.
With pre-pandemic church life in mind, the author explains what happens when churches go digital. He says,
An “online church” is more a product to be consumed than it is a people to be joined. (Page 95)
Again, the author wrote this prior to the coronavirus changing the landscape of the world, so this isn’t a criticism of churches responding to a pandemic. But everything he says in his book is effectually what played out after the pandemic-induced closures. When we produce digital content, that content is meant to be consumed. And in doing so, we become part of an online culture that focuses on the never-ending cycle of production and consumption.
The concern here is the way a congregation is unwittingly conditioned to become digital consumers, not disciples, and it’s a concern worth noting.
At the same time, I can see how my own family has benefited from online churches. In summer of 2020, we learned that my husband’s job is relocating from California to the East Coast. With a cross-country move on the horizon, we used those long months of quarantine to “visit” online churches in the area where were will eventually live. My husband and I were drawn to one church in particular, so when we traveled there in the fall, we visited that church in person. We self-quarantined for 10 days before visiting their Sunday morning service, and we followed all the precautions of mask-wearing, physical distancing, and having our temperatures taken.
And I have to say, to be in a real church service again was like cool water on a parched soul.
But the way we found this church was through their online offerings. Our in-person attendance simply confirmed for us that we had found our new church home. Plus, since God led us to our new church before we found a new house, we were able to narrow our house-search to the neighborhoods in close proximity to our new church. What a blessing!
The book, Analog Church, doesn’t criticize “online church” as much as it points out its inherent limitations.
Nearly a year into the pandemic, people have long-since realized how devastating it is to keep humans shut inside their homes indefinitely without reprieve. (Those of us in Los Angeles can certainly attest to this.) We weren’t meant to live in isolation. We were designed by our Creator to live in community.
About community Jay Kim says,
The digital age has amplified our ability to communicate at the tragic cost of our aptitude for communing….To communicate is primarily about the exchange of information. To commune is primarily about the exchange of presence. To be sure, communicating isn’t always simple and it isn’t always easy. Miscommunication happens all the time. But to commune is the more difficult task. It requires more of us: more of our attention, empathy, and compassion.
In light of this, why must community within the context of the church be analog? Because while we can certainly communicate digitally, we can only commune in analog. (Pages 108-109)
We can only commune in analog. In real space and time. Where we can touch and hold one another. Where we can lean in and listen to one another.
To live in community is part of God’s design, for the church is God’s gift to the world. As broken as it sometimes can be, the church is still God’s chosen vessel for reaching people, and we communicate our care for one another when we’re actually there for one another. To talk, laugh, cry, and share meals with one another.
The timeframe for returning to in-person services will vary, of course, depending on each church’s local context. But one thing the book, Analog Church, does for us is remind us of the importance of gathering with real people in real places — whenever that may be possible again in our respective contexts.
As Jay Kim says,
True analog community is what the world is hungry for, whether they know it or not. (Page 113)
While a version of online church will likely continue as an option — and it may be a wise option for those who are homebound or immunocompromised — we can’t forget what the church was designed to be. A place where people can gather to sing praises to God. A place where people can hear the Word proclaimed with boldness. And a place where people can sip the cup and taste the bread and remember how good God is.
In many ways, the authors I read are like mentors to me, so I’m starting a new series called #MentorsOnMonday
where I’ll share the insights I’ve gained from the “mentors” who have spoken into my life. And sometimes I’ll write book reviews, too, because I love to share good books with my friends!
I’d love to hear from you. How have you experienced the blessings of “analog church”?