FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Is Digital Church Enough? Jay Y. Kim

with Jay Y. Kim | March 1, 2024
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Love the flexibility of attending digital church services from your sofa? Get skeptical. With Jay Y. Kim, discover why it impacts worship and community.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Love the flexibility of attending digital church services from your sofa? Get skeptical. With Jay Y. Kim, discover why it impacts worship and community.

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Is Digital Church Enough? Jay Y. Kim

With Jay Y. Kim
March 01, 2024
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Jay: Being together really matters. It’s not that digital is evil. It’s not that it’s unhelpful. It’s quite helpful, but it’s just not enough. We need people.


Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at

Dave: This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: Let me ask you a question: what do you think of digital church?

Ann: Interesting question, because it’s bigger now than it’s ever been, especially since Covid.

Dave: I want to know what you think.

Ann: I don’t—

Dave: —you [have been] married to a pastor for 30 years.

Ann: —I don’t think I could do it. I need the presence of people.

Dave: Do what? You mean watch church online.

Ann: Yes; especially if you have a family, you’re listening but you’re cooking; you’re changing diapers—

Dave: —you’re riding the stationary bike.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: It’s good you can do two things at once, but it doesn’t work.

Ann: There’s also something about corporate worship together in a body. I don’t think I realized it until after Covid, until we were together with a larger—not even a huge group of people, but a larger—group of people worshipping together. I remember crying because it felt like my soul was so hungry for that corporate worship.

Dave: We’ve got a pastor in the studio with us. Jay Kim is back [for] day three. He wrote a book called Analog Christian. Now—I guess you wrote Analog Church before Analog Christian.

Jay: That’s right.

Dave: As a pastor, I’m sure your church is—I know your church is online, because I went and looked.

Jay: Yes. [Laughter]

Dave: I did. As I was reading through your book, Jay, I thought, “I have an idea what their church is going to look like” (what your Sunday service is). It was totally different than what I expected. I’ll explain that in a minute.

Welcome back. Today we’re going to talk about the digital world in the church space and, especially, how families can interact with that. Why did you write this one?

Jay: I wrote it several years ago. I wrote it before Covid—

Dave: You did, before Covid?

Jay: —before the pandemic. Interesting story about Analog Church—it’s a book about why we need embodied presence to show up to church. It came out in March of 2020. It came out two weeks after.

I released the book [which said], “Go to church. It’s important to go to church and be with people.” Also, “Don’t go to church. It’s against the law. Don’t go to church right now.” [Laughter] “Don’t go to prison.”

It was a weird month. The publisher and I had lots of conversations saying, “Do we delay?” Long story short, we decided to just release it. In hindsight, I’m grateful that we did because if there was anything I would want to remind people of during that season when, for better or for worse, we couldn’t be together, this book is what I would have wanted to say.

When we’re able, to your point, getting together, being together, really matters. It’s not that digital is evil. It’s not that it’s unhelpful. It’s quite helpful, but it’s just not enough. We need people.

Ann: I love the subtitle: Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age. You’re saying to the many people who are only watching church digitally, you would say, “I don’t think it’s enough.”

Jay: Yes. At the same time, I want to be sensitive. I didn’t do a good job in Analog Church of addressing particular realities. There are a lot of shut-ins in our church. Especially after the pandemic, there are lots of people in our church who are immunocompromised. They have real anxiety about being in large crowds. I want to be sensitive to that. For that, I’m grateful that we have digital.

The other thing I don’t address in that book, again, because I wrote it a while ago, is every time I meet someone new at our church, they tell me that they’ve been watching us online for several weeks, at minimum, and usually for several months.

Dave: It’s the new lobby.

Jay: It is exactly that; it is exactly that. For that reason, I’m grateful. It’s giving people access. What that tells me is, those people aren’t watching because they’re lazy and they don’t want to drive to church. They’re watching—and I get this—because they’re not sure, thinking, “Are these people normal? Is this going to be helpful to me? Does my family fit in? Do I see some kids in there? Do they talk about some kids’ stuff for our kids and our family?”

I think that’s a real gift that we have digital. There’s a balance there for sure.

Dave: Talk about this: one of the [reasons] I checked you out online [was] to see what your church is like. I thought, “I’m going to tune into your church, and it’s going to be this small acoustic guitar guy sitting on a stool, and everybody’s in a circle on a carpet like a house.” Yet there it was: you have lights and a very contemporary experience of church. I thought, “Wow! That’s interesting.”

How does that jive together?

Jay: I am not a baby-out-with-the-bath water sort of guy. I try to make it clear in the book that what I’m not saying is, “Lights are bad.” What I’m not saying is, “Amplified sound it bad.” For us, what it’s about is distraction.

For example, if the lights are helpful in pointing our people to the right things: God and Jesus as the center of our worship gathering, [and] one another as the people of God, then use lights. If amplified sound is helpful to point people and to gather in the right way, then do that.

Ann: Jay, let’s say you have a Gen Z kid who thinks, “I don’t want to go. Is it okay for me to just watch digitally, Mom and Dad?” You guys think, “I’m just going to watch digitally because there’s a pastor in another part of the country that I like, and I’m going to watch that.”

As a parent, how would you respond to those questions?

Jay: That’s a great question, Ann. I think I would say, “Watching digitally—oh, you like that pastor? The way he teaches is helpful for you? By all means!” Because the content matters; information matters; inspiration, which is possible digitally, [and] all of those things really matter. This conversation right now is a part of that. People aren’t all in the room with us, but the masses will be listening to this digitally with headphones on or on their screen, whatever it might be. That really matters. 

I think I would encourage the good saying, “I’m so happy you’re hungry to learn more and to hear more and to receive the Word of God and all those things.” But I think I would also make really clear, “There’s more for you. When you’re ready, we’d love for you to join us, or maybe there’s another church community in town that resonates.”

At a certain point, the information is a part of the journey, but it is not the end of the journey. The information needs to get us to a place where we feel real belonging amongst a community of people, the people of God.

I think accentuating the good by saying, “I’m so happy you’re hungry for this!” But also, “When you’re ready, I’ll do whatever I can to help you find your people.” Hopefully it’s at the same church, but if it’s not, the priority is that they find their people, the people of God, that they can journey with. I think that’s how I would respond.

Ann: That’s good.

Dave: Talk about how, maybe—the house church journey. The next generation, sometimes (I’ve seen a little bit of this) reacting against mega[-church]. I’m not just talking big, but produced and slick, and a guy standing on a stage and everybody listening.

Frances Chan wrote Letters to the Church and talked about his journey. He was in your area of the world with a megachurch and said, “We’ve created a place where people become consumers, and they come and they listen to me preach, and then they go do nothing rather than saying, ‘Let’s get on the streets,’” which is the journey he took.

I know a lot of the next generation is seeing that and saying, “That’s what the church should be.” How do you respond to that?

Jay: I’m grateful that there are lots of churches and lots of different types of churches. It’s pretty tempting to pit one model against the other. The church where I serve is a large church; it’s a large multi-site church. There are pros and cons to that. There are pros and cons to the house church. It may very well be that somebody meets Jesus for the first time at our church because nothing was asked of them, and it was just a place to heal.

This is a real story. A few months ago, a young family in our neighborhood—they’re marginally Muslim; they grew up Muslim, but they’re not practicing. They’re certainly not Christian. We had the thing that mega-churches do and totally get criticized [for]. We did the big fall family festival thing. This family comes, and their daughter said, “Dad, Mom, this is right across the street from our house. This is awesome. I want to come back.”

The dad and mom asked one of our staff, “Is there anything for kids on Sundays? We’re not Christian.” They responded, “Yes, we’d love to have your family.” That family comes back that Sunday. Their daughter loves our kids’ ministry. Long story short, several months later they gave their lives to Jesus.

I’m not telling that story to say, “You see? The mega-church is the answer to the world’s problems,” because if that couple journeys with us for several years, they very well may get to a place when their young daughter is 15 where they realize, you know we’ve reached the limit of how much we can grow in terms of depth here. There’s this house church down the road, and they’re really digging in. That’s going to be best for our daughter and for us.”

I would say, “If that’s true, then bless you as you go. I’m so grateful our church got to play a part in that journey.” On the flip side (and this is just my own two cents): one of the weaknesses of the house churches that I know is, they’re so great at forming community and digging depth. I don’t necessarily, in my part of the world, see a whole lot of, “I was in darkness. Now, through this house church, I found the light of Jesus.”

I don’t see a lot of that there, but they’re incredible for forging real, deep Christian community. Why pit us against one another? Why not dance together and say, “Our goal is all the same. It’s the Kingdom of God, and people far from God coming to know God, and then to be formed into Christlikeness; so, let’s do this together.”

Dave: That’s good. Talk to the mom or dad that has a teenager that says, “I don’t want to go.” How does it—you’re a pastor, I’m a pastor; our kids were growing up in a pastor’s home in a church—what do you say to that parent who really wants to do the analog and thinks, “I want to be in a room, and I want to sing with people, with flesh around me. There’s an experience that’s so dynamic about that, but my kids don’t want to. What do I do?”

Jay: First thought that comes to mind is, we can’t want something for someone ever. It’s just not possible. My wife is a high school teacher. She teaches special ed and loves her students and wants the best for them. I watch her pour herself out. This is something she’s taught me: “I want it so bad for them, but I cannot want it for them.” That’s the first thing.

Ann: It’s so hard, isn’t it, as parents?

Jay: It’s so hard, especially as parents, because you would give your life for them.

Dave: Oh, yes.

Jay: But you can’t want it for them. That’s what’s hard: the limits of our own abilities. The second thought I would say is, and maybe this is a bit more practical: you don’t have to go to experience analog. We can be proactive and bring analog to our kids. I know that’s a big ask.

Dave: What’s that look like?

Jay: It looks like calling your youth pastor and saying, “My kid doesn’t want to go. I’m not going to force him. Is there anything happening that’s a neutral space?” or “Is there any sort of way my kid—my kid likes x, y, and z.” Maybe it’s a big church and the youth pastor isn’t accessible. If it is a big church, and it’s a healthy youth ministry, that means there are lots of leaders who are focused on your teenager’s age group. Be proactive.

I think we default to, “If I can just get my kid through that door, all the professional Christians in that room will solve the problem.”

Ann: Yes.

Jay: That’s not true. It is partnership. There’s a way to partner. This is not to say, every church in America, you call them, and their youth pastor is going to show up at your door. No, they’re very busy and what not.

But healthy ministries, they will at least care, and they will work with you, saying, “Okay, what can we do? What can we figure out? What is he into? Here’s some of that that’s coming up. Do you think he’d come to this? Maybe I’ll call him directly and do a personal invite.” Or maybe it’s, “He’s not comfortable yet, and I’ll take him to coffee or grab lunch and hear his story.” That’s very analog, and it’s not in the building. We can bring analog to our kids. I think we’ve got to be creative about those things.

Dave: What do you say to the parents that are—we’ve talked about this quite a bit on FamilyLife Today, where our kids were in the youth group at whatever-sized church, thriving, [and] seemed like [they had] vibrant faith. They go away to college, or they leave the home after [they are] 17, 18, or 19 years old, and there’s an epidemic of them walking away. They were once part of a vital church ministry.

You’re a pastor. You think about these things all the time. And you’re a dad. How do you address that whole situation?

Jay: There’s been so much good work done along these lines. I think about Barna Group, [which] has a lot of data, a lot of research. [There are] lots of people doing lots of great work. I think to summarize much of the work, a couple of things come to mind. Maybe the most important thing—are you guys familiar with “Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs?”

Dave: Sure.

Jay: You guys are obviously familiar with that.

Dave: It was out way before you were born.

Jay: Way before! Long before me. [Laughter] Toward the end of his life, Maslov added something at the peak of the pyramid called “transcendence,” which is like a desire for God.

For those listening who aren’t familiar, the Maslov pyramid or the hierarchy of needs is just basically a way to think about how humans prioritize needs. At the very bottom of the pyramid would be food and water, meaning if we’re having a conversation, and we’re talking about the meaning of life but I’m starving to death, I’m not interested in seeing the meaning of life. I just need a bite to eat and some water to drink. But once we get those needs, the meaning of life matters.

What’s interesting to me is, belonging, the need to belong, comes before the need for identity and meaning in life. I think in the church, one of the things we have not done well, especially in youth groups, is, we’ve accidentally reversed those two things on the pyramid. We think if we can teach kids to believe the right things, to know everything there is to know about the Bible and the resurrection of Jesus and all those things, which are of utmost importance, then that will lead them to a long-lasting faith.

But what we’re discovering is that the passionate kid in youth group that was all gung-ho about Jesus; they turn 18, they go away to college, they’re in a brand new environment, and the entire infrastructure of their youth ministry—friends and leaders who loved them and knew them; belonging—that’s been removed, and then faith just deconstructs. Because all the information about, “who you are in Christ” and “what’s true about Jesus and your life,” [and] those things come after you have the safety of, “I’m known, and I’m loved.”

That’s the first thought that comes to mind. I think we have to do a better job of helping teenagers, as they gain independence in college, or they begin their working life or whatever. In the church, the local church and campus ministries, and on and on, we have to be really intentional. We’ve got to create accessible, safe, large onramps for them to belong, for them to find a community that can know them, and they can know and be seen and known and loved.

Dave: Is that possible with digital church, or does that need to be quite often analog? I’ve got to be around people, not just in a digital space, but in a real physical space.

Jay: I absolutely agree. I think digital can be a wonderful onramp to it. You said earlier digital is the new lobby. That’s true for teenagers, too; so, especially for teenagers.

Every time we have high school graduates in our church graduate, our youth ministry will find out where they’re going to college. Then we’ll put together a packet for them [of], “Here are all the campus ministries and all of the churches that we vouch for in that area.” Then we’ll do our best to connect them directly to a leader. That’s all digital.

What these kids do is, they go online, and they check all these churches and ministries’ Instagrams, saying, “What are these folks like?” That’s the onramp, but it inevitably, hopefully, leads to a coffee conversation with a leader or one of the pastors and that becomes an analog experience.

Yes, I think they have to play together: digital and analog.

Dave: Is there something to a family sitting together in a worship space? I’m talking analog. As a pastor, we had all the different age groups. The kids went here, middle school went here, high school went here. It was rare in our situation that they sat together—

Ann: —maybe at Christmas.

Dave: —mom, dad, single mom, single dad in a pew. We didn’t have pews, but in seats. Is there something to that environment? We can do it in a home, but even in a church situation.

Jay: I think so. I think it really matters. Just my two cents: I think it matters more in the home. It matters more in the home, worshipping together in the home. My mom used to make me sit down with her and read the Bible and pray the Lord’s Prayer with her every night growing up.

Ann: Really?

Jay: I hated it. [Laughter] I hated it. I dreaded it. It felt like the biggest waste of time. But it formed something in me. Now, I make my kids do it. We read their little Kids’ Bible. We don’t pray the Lord’s Prayer. In our home we actually do—there’s this ancient 16th Century practice called “The Daily Examen” or “The Prayer of Examen.” It’s a Jesuit practice [from] Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

It’s a way to reflect on your day. We do that with our kids, including our five-year-old. He’s super fidgety, and he tries to rush through the prayer. But I’m watching him, over time, get a sense of, “Oh, we’re creating over time a certain type of space. This is a particular type of rhythm for our family.”

Then, what they experience at church becomes simply an extension of what we do at home. Both are important.

Ann: Jay, I love that we’re ending with that, because worshiping together at church is important. But you are right, it begins in the home. That piece is critical. It bonds you as a family spiritually. I think our kids are watching us, and they’re thinking, “This really matters to mom and dad.”

Dave: You mentioned quite a bit in your book about transcendence; that we’re made for that. You just explained you are bringing that into your home for an eight- and a five-year-old who may not understand exactly what’s happening but they’re—

Ann: –I like that you said you hated it growing up, too.

Jay: I totally did.

Dave: They may say that 20 years from now, but I bet they’re going to keep it going. It’s going to be the Kim heritage and legacy. It’s going to be awesome.

Ann: That’s a great step of practicality for families, saying, “What could that look like for our family to worship together or do something together?” It’s formative in what they’re learning.

Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott. You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jay Kim on FamilyLife Today.

Jay’s written a book called Analog Church: Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age. I think all of us can understand and relate to that: why we need real people, places, and things, because so much now is living in the digital world. This book helps us to explore that intersection between technology and the real life-ness of church.

You can go online to, where you can find the book in the “Show Notes” section at the bottom of the page, or you can give us a call at 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY,” to get a copy.

Earlier this week, we got to hear from the amazing Elizabeth Woodson, who wrote a book called Embrace Your Life. The subtitle of that book is How to Find Joy When the Life You Have is Not the Life You Hoped For. I think anybody would hear that subtitle and think, “Yes, that’s me.” At least to a certain degree, that’s you.

She helped us find contentment in that gap between where we want our life to be and where our life actually is. This book addresses finding joy and hope in that gap during those present moments. This book by Elizabeth Woodson is going to be our gift to you when you give today. You can get your copy of her book now with any donation. Just go online to and click on the “Donate Now” button at the top of the page, or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

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Now, it’s Friday, so I want to ask you to pray for all the Weekend to Remember® marriage events that are happening this weekend in, specifically, Minneapolis, Montgomery, Omaha, and Rochester.

With over 40 events across the country, they’re still happening this spring, and there’s still time to find a location near you. You can go to to find a date and a location that works for you and your spouse.

Coming up next week, I had a conversation with Dave and Ann Wilson talking about what young people are dealing with today in terms of dating, relationships, sex, and communication. It is going to be an incredible conversation. I loved hanging out with the Wilsons and talking about all this. I, Shelby Abbott, will be on next week on FamilyLife Today. We hope you’ll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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