As hard as it might be to believe there is life beyond Zoom, or where there might be an alternative to communal life mediated by a computer screen, there is hope that, at least soon, enough, we will have the opportunity to connect with people in an “analog” way, that is to say, without technology. That will only continue as we review Jay. Y. Kim’s recent release, Analog Church.
It is not lost on me that I have written a few reviews in a row lately on the negative effects of technology (Competing Spectacles and Truth We Can Touch, for example) right in the midst of a global pandemic in which we have been forced to only, or at least mostly, connect digitally and not in the flesh.
Writing on books that are skeptical of technology now, when many of us only have the ability to meet with close friends and family digitally, is perhaps an odd choice. And yet, just as a person learns more about their home country by traveling away from it, perhaps this is the right moment to consider just how important “analog” experiences of life truly are, now that we are forced to abstain from them in the time of COVID-19.
And while digital technologies have encouraged us to become more and more removed from in-person experiences, perhaps this an opportunity to recognize that Zoom calls, no matter how helpful they may be for groups separated geographically, can never come close to the kind of experience that happens in person. Kim describes this well: “At their best, social media and other digital spaces can be wonderful initiating spaces that lead to true human connection, but they can never become home for those connections; they’ll always fall short and leave us wanting.” (p.20)
The aim of books like Analog Church is to help us gain a more critical understanding, not just about how technology is shaping our lives, but how often and in what ways we want to engage digitally. This intentionality can change what for most of us has been an unreflective drift into smart-phone usage and other technologies that suck up our time. We need to make these choices both to work productively (see Deep Work for further thoughts on this) and to be present with those most important to us in fellowship.
Analog Church reviews the ways that churches in recent years have (often uncritically) bought into this proposition: in order to grow, we must adopt the technologies of the wider culture. In this, Kim is not a bystander, but a fellow traveler who has served in multiple churches in the hub of technological advancement, Silicon Valley. Over time, his congregations have adopted many cutting-edge technologies in pursuit of growth.
Kim argues that for all the glitz and glamor such technologies provide, something important is missing, something intrinsic to what the church is at its core. This is how Kim himself describes his experience as a pastor adopting these new technologies:
“We found ourselves spending inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to create spaces that looked, sounded, and felt like whatever we thought was most relatable to popular culture at large. Ultimately, though, we discovered that any sort of sustained emphasis on relevance invariably led to satisfied Christian consumers who’d found a product they enjoyed, but rarely led to anything deeper. The most transformative experiences people were having in our communities, we slowly realized, had nothing to do with the lights, sound, and spectacle. Transformation was happening in much more tactile ways—through personal relationships and the profound simplicity of studying Scripture, praying, and sharing meals together.” (p.9)
Experiencing this transformation led Kim to believe that the answer is to “go analog.”
“People,” Kim believes, “are hungry for human experiences, and the church is perfectly positioned to offer exactly that.” (p.11) To this end, the author spends much of his time contrasting powerful “analog” experiences in the church with their digital counterparts, with the “analog” experiences always coming out on top from a theological perspective. While I do not disagree with Kim’s conclusions, at times this contrast becomes a bit repetitive.
Nevertheless, there are a number of valuable points to be found throughout the book that should help readers explore critically the role of technology in their lives and churches. For instance, in his description of the impact of technology on modern life, the author focuses on three main areas: Speed, Choices and Individualism.
In his own words, Kim offers a poignant, but troubled picture of these aspects of technology on our lives:
“As the speed and choices of the digital age send us hurling toward impatience and shallowness, they culminate in its most damaging consequence: isolation. Social media in particular lures us in under the guise of connection, but beneath this mask is the reality that social media, and digital spaces as a whole, are for the most part lonely places.
This is because social media is fueled by voyeurism—that broken inclination within each of us to peek behind the curtain of other people’s lives. Rather than connecting us, the voyeuristic nature of social media actually detaches and distances us from one another, as we find ourselves running aimlessly on the treadmill of comparison and contempt. We feel like we can see one another’s lives, but none of us ever feel truly seen.” (p.19)
Much of the rest of the book looks at the specific ways the church is meant to be experienced in an “analog” fashion, including an in-depth look at worship in both the Old and New Testaments. Through a word study from both Hebrew and Greek, Kim describes the “whole-body” nature worship is supposed to entail for every congregant. How can this be accomplished when most “worship,” as it is presently conceived, lends itself to passive consumption instead of active participation? For example, I’m sure many of us have witnessed a church service that had the aura of a concert, with professionals performing and an audience listening. How can we help the church break out of this harmful pattern, with or without technology? It’s a good question we ought to consider.
Overall, I found in Analog Church a helpful critique of the often-naïve acceptance and adoption of technology in many churches (though there are perhaps even more churches who have uncritically rejected newer technologies as well, but that’s another book entirely!) At the same time, perhaps there is room here to have a bit of grace for tech-heavy churches, remembering that many of these technologies are so new we haven’t had the chance to accurately evaluate either the positive or negative impacts they have had on the church.
Nevertheless, it’s worth examining whether our embrace of technology truly serves discipleship, or merely reflects the western cultural assumption that more technology is always better. Technology, like all tools, is value-neutral, with its value determined by both use and outcomes.
That is precisely where books like Analog Church have so much to say to us today. They offer us a chance to reflect critically on the ways in which technology both helps and hurts the mission of the church. May this be part of a larger effort by the church to discern in community how best to proclaim the gospel to the world.
Stuart Strachan Jr.
Get your copy of Analog Church at Amazon here!
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