Monday, May 4, 2020

How to Measure Online Attendance?

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated change in churches at arguably the fastest rate in history! Back in 2015, megachurches led the church world in offering online church: 30% of megachurches offered an online campus experi­ence—defined as more than merely video streaming the service, by also including interactive features, staff involvement and online attender accountability. Half of the 30% had begun their online campus in 2012 or later. Roughly one in three (36%) of them had at least one full-time staff person dedicated to this “campus” which on average served a median of 300 persons weekly. Plus, an additional 18% said they were considering this approach, according to the same research report.

Fast forward to today, and it’s hard to find a large church that isn’t offering quality broadcasts with some level of interactivity, and on multiple mediums at that—such as the church webpage, Facebook Live, YouTube, Vimeo, and Roku. Whew!

If online attendance numbers are to be believed, more people heard the Gospel online on Easter Sunday 2020 than at any year in the history of Christianity. This raises two important questions: Why is measuring online attendance important? And what is the best way to measure online attendance?

What to Count?

At best, a church’s online presence is an on-ramp, says church commentator Karl Vaters. It’s the most important one we have during the pandemic, for sure. “But an on-ramp is not the endgame,” he affirms.

The danger here? Content consumption isn’t discipleship! It speaks to the same problem whether online or at an in-person church service. We’re not to be hearers alone, but doers. As James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Even more, we’re to be transformed and renewed (Romans 12:1-2) as we meet God afresh through worship, fellowship and teaching. The buzzword today for such interactions is: engagement.

Are You Offering Engagement -- A Clear and Constant Call to Action?

Consequently, I’m seeing more churches go beyond the “vanity metrics” of counting online viewership. In fact, many churches "count" their online audience size only as those who DO something as a result of the broadcast. Here are ten examples (all of which can be measured and counted):

“Go into our online prayer room after the service”

“Come to our ‘after party’ immediately after the service to meet other people and discuss the sermon”

“Download this resource for use during the week”

“Call a friend and [fill-in response relevant to the sermon], and then in your online small groups, tell each other how it went”

“Please let us get to know you better by filling out a digital welcome/connection card -- or text us your name”

“Take this online survey to find the way that you can best serve right now”

 "If you prayed to receive Christ, begin telling others by putting something in the chat"

 “Ask God what He wants you to give financially, and then do whatever He shows you -- you can give online, by text or by postal mail"

 "Like, comment or follow us online so that we can connect more personally with you"

“Sign up for a ‘meet the pastor webinar’ which temporarily replaces our ‘pizza with the pastor’ get-acquainted event”

People who do a lot of fishing have learned to try many different hooks, and to learn what works. That’s where your measurements and statistical analysis comes in.

How to Count?

The possibilities for counting are all over the map--causing many people to announce that their church has grown during the pandemic, but I'm not sure that's the case. Some count total number of views, including those that were there for only 3 seconds. Others count “quality views” defined as anyone who stays 15 minutes or longer. Others count only those who stay for the entire service? A few count whether people comment, make salvation decisions, or indicate other recordable decisions.

How many people are watching through each device? One estimate is 1.7 people.’s David Fletcher suggests a range: “Count 1.5 if your church has lots of single adults, and as high as 2.2 if you have lots of young families. Anything higher than 2.5 is probably speaking evangelistically—based on current metrics.” That said, according to a recent Barna ChurchPulse poll (a convenience sample, not a true representative sample), 23% of churches use a multiplier, and the average multiplier is 2.3.

Or you can follow the example of some churches, such as Atlanta’s Renovation Church which has a “Click to Watch Online” step that specifically asks you how many are viewing, and anything else viewers want to share about themselves. That’s one way to have an answer with integrity!

“Don’t be one-dimensional by measuring only one number,” says Kenny Jahng in an interview with Carey Nieuwhof. “Use as many numbers as you can to work toward greater engagement.”

Here’s how one of ECFA’s member churches, Mill City Church, measures their online participation:

As Justin Steinhart, Pastor of Administration explains, "One of the things we felt very intentional about in our online gatherings was that we wanted them to reflect the current state in which we lived. We wanted to have a high production value, but also not feel overly produced or to make it seem as though church hasn't changed along with the rest of the world. So while the message hasn't changed, the medium and the method has; for us this looked like filming in homes, outside for Easter, or having announcements look as though the person was "zooming" in. Having this vision for our online gatherings, then helped us to determine what we wanted to measure. We currently use Vimeo for our streaming services, and they, like most others, provide a number of statistics that you can almost get lost in. We decided to narrow our measurements on a few areas and additionally include some we found interesting:

• Regional views - we wanted to know, who of those within physical distance of attending our previously in-person gatherings, were continuing to join us online.

• Average Watched - this percentage represents the furthest point in the timeline a video is played per person divided by the total length of the video.

• Finishes - this number represents the people that watched the whole video from beginning to end.

• National and International - We found the inclusion of these numbers interesting, as they help us understand just how far of a digital reach we're currently having.

We intentionally left off impressions from our measurements (the number of times the player is loaded with the video), because while those numbers are fun to see (upwards of 10,000 or more), they didn't necessarily give us a good overall picture of the data we were looking for in terms of trying to measure online attendance/views."

ECFA Can Help You Do Other Integrity Standards Well

If this blog has interested you, it’s perhaps because you have a heart for reaching people, a desire to see growth, an interest in good metrics, and a value of integrity of reporting. All four of those themes match the kind of church that receives certification from ECFA. Several hundred churches are among our membership, including around 50 of the nation’s largest-attendance churches. 

Not only does ECFA certification show that you’re aligned with our Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship, but we also equip your team in how to do integrity well. Our webinars, ebooks, podcasts and more cover the kind of topics you see in the graphic below.

Plus, this is an especially great time to learn more since we’re currently waiving the $500 application fee and providing 50% off the 2020 certification fee. Thanks to a generous grant from our friends at Lilly Endowment, ECFA is able to provide this opportunity to churches who are interested in becoming ECFA certified.  For more information on the “why” and “how” of certification, click here: or email