With the sudden introduction of online worship to churches of all sizes in the North Alabama Conference, the Cabinet has been asked to provide some guidelines for counting online attendance. They are aware that some churches, who have tech people skilled in reading analytics, may already have guidelines that they use. Other churches may have church membership attendance software that allows for online registration of attendance. However, many churches are struggling to determine how to count their online attendance, the following guideline is intended to help those churches.
Online attendance is harder to determine than a headcount in a sanctuary. For instance, Facebook counts people who just happen to scroll past the video in their feed, and online viewers are free to come and go as they feel led.
Given the importance of both attendance and engagement, the best method for counting on-line attendance is through an online check-in process. Many church membership software products have an online attendance register. Another option for congregations is to do this simply by asking people to use the comment section on Facebook or YouTube to register that they are there and who is worshiping with them (eliminating the perceived need for a multiplier, more on that below). If they have children, rather than posting names, simply have them say something like “Smith Family – 4.” Congregations may also want to add an email address in the clip summary for those who don't have a Facebook or Google account and encourage folks to email the church directly to register their attendance.
The next best method is to use the number that indicates the longest view of the online service.
What about multipliers? The Cabinet recognizes that more than one person may be viewing a video at a time, so how do congregations account for multiple viewers? Some use a ratio that represents the average family size in their congregation. If you use a multiplier, don’t use a theoretical ratio (e.g., the average family size in America). Use a ratio that is appropriate for your context and your congregation. But once again, the best way to avoid the need for a multiplier is a check-in system.
One of the wonderful aspects of online worship is that people can watch it whenever they have time and inclination. While some will choose to watch a worship service while it is live-streamed, others will choose to watch in the afternoon or a few days later. So, at what point, do congregations “count” attendance?
Pick a time prior to the deadline for benchmark reporting and use the same time every week. No, it will not account for everyone who watches your service, but it will give you a benchmark to judge whether your views and engagements are growing or shrinking over time.
Please keep in mind that the most important thing is to identify a method and then apply it consistently. Even more importantly, while you report attendance for the Conference weekly benchmark report, engagement is really the desired outcome.