Analog Fellowship in a Digital World

I received a book in the mail this past week, that I look forward to digging into soon. The best part about this book was that it was free. Sometimes publishers send pastors free books, and I assume that they assume that if we read them and like them, we will talk about them and our church members will want to buy copies of their own. So consider this my best efforts at promoting this book, even before I have read it.

The book is entitled “Analog Church” (by Jay Y. Kim), and the premise is that we are called to be an analog church in a digital world. In other words, as much as the world has gone high-tech, “we still need real people, places and things in the digital age.” No doubt, we have been reminded of that again and again during this time of pandemic and quarantine.

Now let me say, I am sure glad that we had all the digital advantages of living in the 21st century during this pandemic, whether that meant ordering take-out on-line, binge streaming when we had nothing else to do, or FaceTiming with the quarantined grandkids. And I am sure glad that we had access to live streaming our worship services during our time of separation (and still do, for those who are still separated). I am grateful for things like Zoom and Facebook Live that provide virtual opportunities for interacting with one another, even if it’s through a screen. I sure would have missed hanging out with my small group every week if we had not had that option. But I sure do look forward to getting back to “real life.”

I read a news article a few weeks back that said that Zoom has gone from 10 million daily meeting participants back in December to more than 300 million in late April. 300 million…daily! GoogleMeet is adding roughly 3 million new users every day, and recently hit over 100 million daily participants. We have used several platforms in our church over the past three months, including Zoom, for elders and staff meetings, small group Bible studies, youth group, children’s and preschool events, and just “fellowship.”

I have read several blogs and listened to podcasts of “experts” during this COVID crisis who tell us that this is the future of the church. That the pandemic ushered us into what was already inevitable, a Jetson-like world of virtual church. I don’t want to come across as a backwards, anti-progress, status-quo kind of guy, but I just don’t see that happening. There’s something about face-to-face, in person gathering that defines the church. From the beginning in Acts, we were designed to be “analog,” and no amount of technology can replace that.

We have stressed over and over–long before the pandemic–that we are the church whether we are gathered or scattered, whether we are at our church campus or in our neighborhoods. But there’s no denying the importance of believers getting together. Even that word–“together”–is such an important part of what the church is called to be.

This week my bride and I celebrated 36 years of marriage. We have been together for 36 years, and we have blessed to be “together”–in the same place–for just about every week of those 36 years. There have been occasional times when we have been apart–for a mission trip, an out-of-town conference, or a women’s retreat–and during those times away I am thankful we had the miracles of modern technology that allowed me to talk to my wife, to hear her voice, to connect. But that was always temporary, a short-term replacement for the real thing, Likewise, I am glad that we have online options to to see our children and grandchildren who are out of town, and growing up so fast. But there’s nothing like Nana and Papi getting a big hug or a high five.

I say all this to say–even before I’ve read the book–that I realize we need each other. There are no substitutes to in-person fellowship, being in the same place, shaking hands, hugging necks. It’s why, in a time of civic unrest, people gather to protest, instead of just doing it in the comfort of their own homes (even on social media). There’s something powerful about being together, and sharing a cause together.

This may be the biggest toll that the pandemic and lockdown has taken on our society, the disconnectedness that has come because we are not together. I can only imagine what that looks like for those who do not have the support of a church family, who are living in loneliness and isolation.
For us as the body of Christ, I have to say, again, hang in there. We will get through this. In the mean time, we will make the best of what we have, where we are, while we are here. And hopefully, on the other side of this craziness, we will appreciate all the more the simple joys of old-fashioned “analog” fellowship, and the common bonds of what we share “together.”

What a joy it is to be your pastor. I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.

–Pastor Ken