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Some Awkward Questions About How to Measure Online Church Attendance (+ 5 Growth Strategies)

online attendance

So now that your church (along with almost every other church) is online, you’re probably asking: how exactly do I track ‘attendance’?

One of the remarkable stories of the global pandemic is that suddenly, 49% of churches are reporting that their online attendance is higher or much higher than their in-person attendance.

As I shared here, spiritual curiosity is undoubtedly up (just ask Google), and many churches are connecting with new people and seeing a fresh wave of people making commitments to Christ. That is awesome.

It’s got all of us asking at least two questions:

First, what does this even mean?

Second, by what metric?

That’s where it gets awkward.

First, let me say I’m the first to applaud churches that are reaching new people. That’s my heartbeat and it’s what I think every church should be doing.

I am the LAST guy to criticize any of that. Bring it on, and bring way more of it.

I’m also a little saddened to read hundreds of comments from other church leaders who jumped on the stat that 49% of churches are growing with suspicion and cynicism, asking everything from whether 3 second Facebook views count, whether pastors are using exaggerated multipliers, and whether any of this is real at all (I address all those questions below).

Do we have to start with suspicion?  Whenever there’s progress, I want to celebrate it. When one church wins, we all win.

And if you think this a temporary question that will disappear when your building reopens, just remember that everyone you want to reach is online.

The online attendance question matters because digital church is here to stay.

If you ditch your online presence when your building reopens, you ditch the majority of the people you’re trying to reach.

All of that said, there are some good questions about how to measure online attendance and track ‘church growth’. Clearly we’re moving into a new era of metrics.

While I don’t claim deep expertise in the area of tracking online metrics (I’m more of a writer and online content creator than a person who analyzes online metrics for a living) there are some key principles at stake. In the comments, I would love to hear from church staff and others who track metrics as part of your job with your best practices.

So here are 5 questions about how to measure online attendance and 5 best practices to track online attendance and generate growth.

Everyone you want to reach is online. If you ditch your online presence when your building reopens, you ditch the majority of the people you're trying to reach. Click To Tweet

Question 1: Should 3 Second FaceBook Views Count As Online Attendance?

This is where tracking online ‘attendance’ gets tricky.

Take a look at some sample Facebook analytics on a recent video I posted to my Facebook page.

Question: how many people watched the video?

a) 7836

b) 3020

c) 1110

You could argue that all three answers are correct. And this is exactly the challenge.

Publicly, Facebook displays the video count as 7.8K. But is that fair?

Many church leaders I know are not counting the 3-second views, and instead counting 1-minute views.

Under those metrics, my video watch count drops from 7.8K view to 1.1K. Still not bad, but a bit of a blow to the ego.

So what about 3-second views? Do they count? Facebook counted it. Can’t we count it?

Let me throw something out there.

Maybe counting 3-second views on Facebook as ‘attenders’ is a little like counting people who drive by your building as attenders. Probably not a wise strategy because it’s hard to build the future of your church on it.

Not trying to be a killjoy…just trying to help us all actually reach people, which is kind of the goal.

So back to the original question…how many people watched the video?

My answer, as amazing as the 7.8K figure makes me feel, is that 1.1K is the best metric.

It gets rid of the scrollers who stumbled on you for a second and left. Those who watched a minute or longer did it on purpose.

They meant to watch you, and perhaps that really does count for something.

Counting 3-second views on Facebook as 'attenders' is a little like counting people who drive by your building as attenders. Probably not a wise strategy. Click To Tweet

Question 2: What Do You Do About Low Average Watch Times? 

But wait, it gets even more complicated.

Check out the average watch time for my amazingly helpful video: 20 seconds.  What is WRONG WITH PEOPLE?  How could they skip most of my awesome 4:38 video???

Can I really claim that 1.1K people watched my video if they didn’t watch the whole thing?

And the answer to that is…hey, that’s the internet. It’s how I behave. It’s how you behave.

Welcome to life online in 2020.

As much as I would err on the side of finding a more conservative metric for online ‘attendance’, you can’t keep questioning the numbers until nothing is left.

For those who insist that you can only count an attender if they watched the entire thing through to the end, let me ask you a deeper question.

When someone is sitting through your entire sermon in person, are they paying full attention? For 40 minutes?

Probably not.

What if you started discounting in-person attendance because someone wasn’t paying attention?

As in “I know there were 400 people in the room that Sunday, but who was actually really listening?”

Does someone’s attendance only count if they:

  • Could tell you the main point of the sermon?
  • Could tell you all five key points of the message in order?
  • Pass a sermon-comprehension test on the way to the parking lot?

Or pick worship. Should you finalize attendance figures to include only ‘genuine’ worshippers at a physical event, subtracting:

  • Anyone who doesn’t sing?
  • Eliminating people who don’t raise their hands?
  • Refusing to count people who sang the lyrics but didn’t really mean it in their hearts?

The truth about human attention span and the depth of personal engagement is that they’ve always varied.

Sure, there are real advantages to being in a room, and physical gatherings will come back again.

But that doesn’t mean online is bad or inadequate. Even if watch times aren’t what you dream of.

Before you write off online church, remember this: over one billion hours of video are watched every day on YouTube. Every. Single. Day.

And some of that is real, focused engagement.

So you can go back to your room of 200 people or 2500 people and unplug your online ministry, or you can figure out how to do both well.

Low average watch times can be improved. And they will be improved by leaders motivated to do so.

Over one billion hours of video are watched every day on YouTube. So you can go back to your room of 200 people or 2500 people and unplug your online ministry, or you can figure out how to do both well. Click To Tweet

Question 3: Should You Use an Attendance Multiplier?

If you’ve dabbled in online attendance numbers for more than ten minutes, you’ve probably heard about an online multiplier.

The idea is simple: since onc computer or phone might have more than one person watching, you used a multiplier to reflect that.

Many churches use 1.7 as a multiplier. So in my Facebook video example above, 1.1K views would equal an ‘attendance’ of 1870.

Others use 1.4.  I’ve heard of others using multipliers as high as 2 or more.

On the more conservative side, some large churches err on the side of using no multiplier. Still others ask people to log in and answer a short survey about how many people are watching to be sure their number is accurate (you can do this if you only stream off your website).

For me personally, I’d use either no multiplier or a low multiplier (1.7 max) since the 1-minute view counts are already generous.

Here’s the principle underneath: the more a leader exaggerates or distorts the truth, the harder it is to trust him.

The more a leader exaggerates or distorts the truth, the harder it is to trust him. Click To Tweet

Question 4: Isn’t Counting Physical Attendance More Accurate Than Online Attendance? 

Well, yes and no.

As much as the critics have jumped on reports of online attendance growth, let’s start here: church leaders haven’t always reported in-person attendance consistently or accurately.

At a basic level, pastor math has become an inside joke in church world. It refers to many pastors’ propensity to find the most charitable/evangelistic/inflated account of attendance and announce that.

And different churches count physical attendance differently.

Many volunteers serve multiple services.

Some churches only count volunteers once no matter how many services they help at.

Other leaders count volunteers for every service they served at.

Some don’t count volunteers in their attendance numbers at all.

Some preachers count themselves for every service they speak at.

All of which takes us into the strange underbelly of ego/insecurity/competition that makes up too much of leadership.

In the same way there will be variance in how churches report online attendance, there have always been variances in how churches report physical attendance.

Online attendance tracking is more complicated than physical attendance tracking, but it reveals the same insecurities and exaggerations that have always been there.

Online attendance tracking is more complicated than physical attendance tracking, but it reveals the same insecurities and exaggerations that have always been there. Click To Tweet

Question 5: Does Counting Attendance Even Matter? 

This question has been asked a lot over the years, so a brief reply.

First, numbers matter because people matter. If you care about people, you’ll care about numbers.

Second, as a leader, it’s your job to track progress. If you refused to benchmark and count things like attendance or giving, you won’t lead nearly as well.

Numbers matter because people matter. If you care about people, you'll care about numbers. Click To Tweet

If you’re doubting that measuring things numerically is spiritual, just read through all of scripture to see how prominently numbers and counting figure into the Old and New Testament story. (Maybe start with, say, the book of Numbers.)

In addition, I find that the leaders who criticize pastors who track numbers are often leaders who don’t like their own numbers.

Trust me, there have been seasons where I really didn’t like the numbers I was seeing at all. You’ve probably been there too.

But to stop counting or ignore them is irresponsible. Numbers you don’t like should spur you to greater action, prayer, humility and innovation. (So should numbers you like, by the way. Don’t take the credit. Just keep moving.)

The leaders who criticize pastors who track numbers are often leaders who don't like their own numbers. Click To Tweet

5 Best Practices To Track Online Attendance And Generate Growth 

Here are a few best practices for tracking metrics for your church’s online ministry and, ultimately, improving attendance and engagement.

These can be used for Sunday services, but they’re something you can use for all your online content.

I’ll use the Sunday services metrics to keep things simple for this post, but the principles are more universal than that.

Best Practice 1: Set A Few Simple, Consistent Online Attendance Benchmarks

So what metrics do you choose to track online ‘attendance’?

There are SO many online metrics inside apps like Facebook and YouTube that tracking them all will be both overwhelming and confusing.

So…just pick a few and benchmark those.

For example, here are three that might help you chart the story of what’s happening online.

Number of 1-minute views on Facebook, YouTube and LiveStream service (your website). (Eliminating the 3 and 10-second watch gets rid of people who randomly scrolled into you and left.)

Average Watch Time

Audience Retention (available on both Facebook and YouTube)

Going beyond total reach or watch numbers and tracking metrics like Watch Time and Audience Retention allow you to see how effectively you’re engaging people, not just momentarily accessing people.

Yep, it’s an ego blow, but that’s not what your mission was about anyway. Plus, it will help you measure real growth, not accidental scrolls.

Whatever metrics you pick, use them consistently and make them your benchmark.

That way you have a consistent way to measure trends.

Going beyond total reach or watch numbers and tracking metrics like Watch Time and Audience Retention allow you to see how effectively you're engaging people, not just momentarily accessing people. Click To Tweet

Best Practice 2: Measure and Track Engagement

While views matter because people matter,  views are less valuable than engagement.

Go back to physical metrics you’ve kept for years.

Hopefully you do more than track attendance and giving.

While views matter because people matter, views are less valuable than engagement. Click To Tweet

Many churches also track the number of:

First-time guests

Decisions for Christ

Baptisms

People in Groups

Volunteers

All of those metrics in some form as signs of engagement—a decision to move beyond the crowd and take a step in faith and explore or get involved (at some level) in the mission of the local church.

That’s also happening online.

One of the best things you can do in online ministry is to encourage your viewers to become engagers.  Viewers watch. Engagers participate.

Here are some online engagement metrics to start monitoring:

Likes

Comments

Shares

Subscribes

Decisions (salvation, baptism, new here forms)

Texts (a texting service that people can use for prayer requests, sharing their information, their decision etc.)

Donations

One of the best things you can do in online ministry is to encourage your viewers to become engagers. Viewers watch. Engagers participate. Click To Tweet

While it can be overwhelming to track all of that, setting up a few key engagement metrics is key to seeing how well your online audience is really engaging your message.

This is more important than it appears.

Reach is about breadth. Engagement is about impact.

As we’ve said in the space before the current crisis, engagement is the new church attendance. If you want your church to grow online, stop trying to attract people. Start trying to engage people.

Engagement is the new church attendance. Reach is about breadth. Engagement is about impact. Click To Tweet

Ultimately engagement will drive all your future church growth.

In the future church, only the engaged will attend because only the engaged will remain.

Pastors who obsess over online attendance will be left with declining attendance because they failed to turn attendance into engagement.

Pastors who obsess over online attendance will be left with declining attendance because they failed to turn attendance into engagement. Click To Tweet

Best Practice 3: Connect With Your Engagers

When someone engages with you by liking, commenting, sharing or subscribing, you have an opportunity.

One church I follow has redeployed their staff to send a quick message to everyone who likes their Facebook page, YouTube Channel or engages their online channels.

Imagine liking a page and getting a quick message that says “Hey Carey, we noticed you liked our page. Welcome! Let us know how we can help! – Justin.” Nothing too over the top, not an 18-page form letter. Just a quick note.

Similarly, when someone leaves a comment, at least like their comment and comment back.

Obviously, the more serious the step, the more personal and meaningful the engagement. A comment doesn’t need the same kind of response that a decision to follow Christ or baptism would merit.

But it’s amazing to me how easy it is to count the numbers and ignore the person behind the number.

The people who are best at online ministry are those who are the most personal.

The people who are best at online ministry are those who are the most personal. Click To Tweet

Find it overwhelming?

I’ve heard from so many leaders who are wondering what to do with their staff since they’re not in their building.

Get your staff and emotionally intelligent volunteers to work on connecting with the people who engage your online platforms.

Viewers may watch, but engaged people are far more likely to return.

And know this: pastors who prioritize online relationship over online reach will eventually see much more reach.

Pastors who prioritize online relationship over online reach will eventually see much more reach. Click To Tweet

Best Practice 4: Monitor Momentum

Now that’ you’ve benchmarked a few key metrics for attendance and engagement, start monitoring momentum.

You’ll soon discover (like you do when you track physical attendance) that you’re either gaining or losing momentum.

More people will tune in, or less will. Average watch times will grow or decline. The number of people engaging or taking a step will climb or drop.

All of that tells you a story.

And don’t keep changing the metrics so they tell you the story you want to hear.

Truth is your friend, as hard as that can be. As my friend Rich Birch says, there’s no such thing as bad news. There’s just news.

Truth is your friend, as hard as that can be. As @RichBirch says, there's no such thing as bad news. There's just news. Click To Tweet

Even if your overall audience shrinks as life re-opens and buildings start to reopen,  if the number of comments, subscribers, decisions and steps keeps growing, you’ve unlocked the key to reaching far more people over time.

I fear many pastors will see their online ministry as a temporary bandaid until they can get back in their building. Which means you’ll start ignoring all the people you’re supposed to be reaching.

The pastor who takes online ministry seriously will end up seizing the future in the way pastors who simply return to their buildings won’t.

The pastor who takes online ministry seriously will end up seizing the future in the way pastors who simply return to their buildings won't. Click To Tweet

Best Practice 5: Keep Experimenting

Six weeks into this crisis, you may already be settling into a pattern of what now passes for normal.

Don’t.

A massive disruption like this and the chaos of the new normal that is coming means you should refuse to settle. Keep experimenting.

People will ignore some of what you put online, and they’ll love other things you produce and share.

While there are some clear ways to produce content people ignore (here are the top 7 reasons everyone ignores the online content you produce), the truth is the internet grows every day and the church can’t afford to ignore that.

Church leaders are currently throwing a lot of digital spaghetti at the wall. For the most part that’s great, because eventually, you’ll see what sticks and what doesn’t.

What you stumble upon next might change everything.

Crisis is the cradle for innovation, so keep innovating. Eventually, you won’t just see more reach, you’ll see real engagement.

Crisis is the cradle for innovation, so keep innovating. Click To Tweet

Lead Your Way Through the COVID Disruption. Access My New Course for Free.

I get it. You’re scared. These are deeply uncertain times. 

As hard as it is to admit, it’s just really hard to know how to lead in times like these.

While no one has all the answers, there is help and a strategy that can guide you, and I’d love to come alongside you.

To that end, I’ve got a brand new online, on-demand course, called How To Lead Through Crisisthat can help you lead your team, your church and yourself through the massive disruption.

The course is the gift from me and my team to you and leaders everywhere. In light of everything that’s going on, we decided to make it available 100% free.

Inside How To Lead Through Crisis, you’ll learn how to: 

  • Cultivate a non-anxious presence that inspires confidence and trust.
  • Care for yourself so the crisis doesn’t break you.
  • Master the art of fast-paced, clear decision making. 
  • Gather and interpret the most reliable data that will advance your mission
  • Advance digitally to scale past physical barriers and grow your outreach.
  • Lead your team and congregation remotely

While no one has all the answers in a crisis this big, in the course, I share the mindsets, habits, tools and strategies that I believe will help you lead through crisis to get you and the people you lead to a new (and better) future. 

Join the 6000 leaders who have claimed their place in the course for free.

You can enroll and get instant access for you and your team here.

Crisis Blog Series and the Future Church

I also have a free blog post series on the current global crisis and how the church can respond:

Crisis Leadership, Christian Leadership and the Corona Virus

How to Lead Through Rapid, Unexpected Change

8 Ways to Lead in the New Digital Default Church

5 Ways The Current Crisis is Accelerating The Arrival of the Future Church

My Top 7 Rules for Leading a Digital Team

3 Simple Ways To Make Sure You Don’t Break In the Crisis

8 Early Tips for Producing Digital Content During the Current Crisis

Why Motivation Alone Won’t Get Your People (Or You) Through This Crisis

The Three Kinds of Leaders You See In A Crisis

5 Predictions About the Future Church While Everything’s Unknown

5 Quick Things That Can Make a Long Term Difference During Your First Digital Easter

Half of All Churches Are Instantly Growing. Here’s Why And Here’s What To Do.

The Top 7 Reasons Everyone Ignores the Online Content You Produce

Hope this helps you and your team lead well in a very challenging season.

What Are Your Best Metrics and Practices?

I’d love to hear from church leaders in the comments. What are your best practices and metrics?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

Some Awkward Questions About How to Measure Online Church Attendance (+ 5 Growth Strategies)

38 Comments

  1. Benjamin Block on April 24, 2020 at 7:26 pm

    Great post! I’m gonna send this to our leadership team! Thanks so much!

  2. MIchael Engbers on April 24, 2020 at 11:11 am

    We’ve taken a slightly different approach since we are livestreaming our services, and have since last summer. We do track one minute views.. .a good reminder that there are no ‘throw away’ minutes online.

    But for attendance, since we livestream, we take the number of peak unique live views and multiply it currently by 2.5. The 2.5 is based on surveys of those attending and giving us attendance of how many are attending in their house. We actually took a conservative number… we could have justified 3 or higher based on our weekly feedback from people, but weren’t comfortable with that as we knew there were others not responding (we had about 2/3 respond with info). When we livestreamed and did in house services we multiplied by 1.5 to be conservative.

    What we’re seeing is similar attendance numbers to what we would have had in the past when in house. As we connect with our church via phone etc. we rarely hear of people not joining the livestream so we feel our numbers have been validated.

    The one minute. views are interesting though – to us that is more of our outreach, as are the views when we’re not live. Those numbers have been encouraging. We equate it to ‘tire kicking’ for the 1 minute views… but tire kicking has a purpose and is valuable so we’re working to make sure every minute is ‘fruitful’ and intentional with no dead airtime.

    This has been a fun season for me in some ways as I’ve done some research and writing reflecting on theology and technology, and our need to integrate the two. I think to me that is what may be missing in some ways – the intentional theological reflection on how and why we’re using the technology we do and the ways we choose to use it. I would argue that our theology also needs to be reflected (or more accurately is reflected for good or bad!) in how we’re tracking this attendance, what attendance we choose to track and what we’re valuing.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 24, 2020 at 12:15 pm

      Love this Mike!

      Keep it up man.

  3. David Williams on April 24, 2020 at 9:28 am

    Great post, as usual!

    I’m a pastor with a math background. I don’t track metrics at all, but I have a pretty good grasp numbers. Let me say, I hope Facebook and YouTube start giving some better metrics. “Average” is one of the worst metrics for measuring anything! It’s too easily skewed. Take a simple example from school. Suppose you have 10 quizzes. You score 8/10 on the first 9 quizzes. Then you’re sick and miss the last one resulting in a 0/10. Suddenly your “average” drops from 8/10 to 7.2/10. But you’re clearly an 8/10 student.

    Your “average” watch time is skewed WAY down by the thousands of 3 second watchers. They need to allow users to look at the “median” or “middle” watch time and allow users to look at the “median” watch time for people who watched 1 minute or more. That would give a better sense of what’s happening and it’s a really simple calculation for a computer.

    Keep up the good work! Always appreciate your wisdom and that of your guests on your podcasts. My elders “may” be getting tired of hearing me start an agenda item with, “I was listening to/reading something by Carey Nieuwhof…” but I keep doing it because it’s gold!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 24, 2020 at 12:16 pm

      Oh that’s gold.

      Way to keep your elders on their toes!

  4. Dave Francis on April 24, 2020 at 9:08 am

    Love it!! Very insightful! While 100% accurate online attendance is impossible, honesty and integrity is possible. Thanks Carey!

  5. Josh Andrew Brown on April 24, 2020 at 8:27 am

    Love this Carey! We try to be modest in our approach to numbers as well. Don’t want to get inflated!
    If you dig into the metrics you can find where you actual had viewers(as opposed to views). It’s a more steady metric than the others and seems to be a little more grounded with reality. We take the average high and the average low and take the middle number and multiply it by two. I say average high and average low because that number changes drastically at the first and last minute. The only problem is that it doesn’t really capture those who watch the playback unless you do it later in the week. And whereas we use the high multiplier of two we know that a lot of people with families are using the Facebook watch app on TVs or another streaming device from other platforms. We do this across the board with all of our streams.

  6. Janell on April 23, 2020 at 2:16 pm

    Hi – What (how?) do you calculate audience retention?
    THANKS !!

  7. David Mende on April 22, 2020 at 10:08 am

    This is a very helpful article, Carey. Thank you very much!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 22, 2020 at 1:18 pm

      So glad to help!

  8. Heyns van der Merwe on April 22, 2020 at 3:42 am

    Excellent article, Carey! Everyone should take serious note of the statement made that “The online attendance question matters because digital church is here to stay”! We should be as serious about the online representation as in the physical sermons. Will we stop the sermons in church if only one person attends, or just 20 – why do some consider that then for online attendance (especially for people who often are not in a position to attend church in person)? Every person reached is part of our assignment and mission. I tend to agree with the statement made on the multiplier issue – rather be conservative, as “the more a leader exaggerates or distorts the truth, the harder it is to trust him”. The fact that we have available is the actual number of connections for the amount of time chosen as metric. The 1-minute watch time seems like a reasonable metric. A different approach could be to use a weighted-average type of value system, where all the attendances for the different times are averaged according to some relative weighting factor. The 1-second watchers may be allocated a value of 0.15 (they were there, but only briefly), the 3-second watchers met possibly be allocated a value of 0.35 and the 1-minute watchers then get a value of 0.5 (for example). The weighted average is then calculated, taking all of these into account in accordance with the value system. But why venture into the realm of further guesswork without any evidence in using multipliers, except if some additional reliable data is available from your viewers to determine that average (multiplier) for your situation (keeping in mind that it will probably vary over time)? We are in essence interested in the amount of connections for a sensible time – and then have faith that Holy Spirit will actively use that to multiply and to sow, water, grow and reap the results thereof. If a multiplier is used without really good evidence that it is based on, it should be a low value as the 1-minute view metric might already contain some uncertainty built into it. I fully agree with tracking of engagements – while this may not reflect all the people that attended, it definitely shows the people that were showing interest and took the time to interact. Those are also the people that are most likely to be attending online services and sessions regularly. As rightly stated “reach is about breadth. Engagement is about impact… Engagement is the new church attendance. If you want your church to grow online, stop trying to attract people. Start trying to engage people. Pastors who obsess over online attendance will be left with declining attendance because they failed to turn attendance into engagement”. Personal interaction is key to online ministry. “Pastors who prioritize online relationship over online reach will eventually see much more reach”!

  9. Tabitha Barnette on April 21, 2020 at 5:18 pm

    Thank you so much for this article. I have been searching for this information for the last 6 months since we have launched our online campus. Now that online is our only attendance, it is a weekly question from the Pastor. The answer “I don’t know” is not acceptable so I have to come up with some type of metric.. Some bloggers suggest we not count online #’s. Do you have any other articles or resources that discuss how churches should analyze and better use this data.

  10. Steven Fogg on April 21, 2020 at 12:57 am

    As someone who feel’s like he is an Old Aged Church Online Pensioner….

    I love the thought you have put into this. My 2 cents. We need to caution taking IRL metrics into the online space. Yes, we need to measure for sure, but the reality is that online still “has it diapers on” and the way the vast majority of people consume any kind of content is so variable.

    For example, just because there is watch time, it actually doesn’t mean anyone is watching. It just means the device is on. Until we can actually measure eyeballs on screen then we are still guestimating. Not that its bad, it is just still so inaccurate.

    I love your analogy of digital spaghetti Carey, just add a huge “dose of digital salt” (English saying about being slightly skeptical) with any metrics. 🙂

    You are carving out some great conversations here!

    Online is here to stay everyone. The churches that don’t just pivot back will be the winners in the longer run.

  11. Zach Jarrach on April 20, 2020 at 10:14 pm

    Hello! I’m an Online Campus Pastor and I want to thank you for writing this! It is difficult to communicate to other church leaders and Pastors to look past the vanity metrics Facebook leads with to get to the hard data.

    I have found to get the most accurate number is to take the total minutes viewed of a video and then divide it but the length of the video. Take solution to that problem and multiple it by the average household size of a family in your church.

    For example. If a 60 minute video has 6000 minutes of watch time and the average household in your church has 2 people then you have a total of 200 people in attendance. (6000/60) *2

    I would love to know your thoughts!
    – Zach

  12. Zach Jarrach on April 20, 2020 at 10:07 pm

    Hello! I’m an Online Campus Pastor and I want to thank you for writing this! It is difficult to communicate to other church leaders and Pastors to look past the vanity metrics Facebook leads with to get to the hard data.

    I have found to get the most accurate number is to take the total minutes viewed of a video and then divide it but the length of the video. Take solution to that problem and multiple it by the average household size of a family in your church.

    For example. If a 60 minute video has 6000 minutes of watch time and the average household in your church has 2 people then you have a total of 200 people in attendance. (6000/60) *2

    I would love to know your thoughts!

  13. Fiona on April 20, 2020 at 12:56 pm

    Hi Carey,

    Thought provoking as ever and I’m glad you encourage us to err on the cautious side when looking at views as metrics. I am interested in the comparison you make between concentration in a sermon and a one minute view; I’m not sure how valid it is; the person listening to the sermon has paid a price to listen to it (as in, they have made an effort to get to church), so they are likely to get more out of it because of their attitude (even if they don’t concentrate for the whole thing) than the surfer who watches one minute of a 5 minute post. I absolutely agree with what you say about online presence, measuring it properly and it being our ‘entrance foyer’…and we need reminding about that over and over again. You do that so well. However, in the end, we must be careful not to be deluded about what it can and cant deliver.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 20, 2020 at 3:27 pm

      That’s very true Fiona, and if they’re bored in person they’re probably not coming back often. Engagement is the payoff on line in so many ways. That’s where the growth will come from. Thanks for the comment!

  14. Nick Blevins on April 20, 2020 at 11:51 am

    Great thoughts, Carey! With live, I’ve leaned towards using the peak live viewers number and then we do survey people which gives us the multiplier. In this current season, it’s been 1.8 consistently (1.9 at Easter). Even with the multiplier, that’s a much smaller number than views but it seems like it has been the most realistic.

    We do track all kinds of stuff (there are probably 30 columns in our sheet), but the views outside of live is where it seems to get tricky. I’d prefer to have a % of the video watched rather than just 3 sec, 10 sec, 1-minute. In that case, I’d probably focus more on something like 25-50% watched, which seems closer to how many people would be sitting in a service watching/listening.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 20, 2020 at 12:18 pm

      It’s fascinating how all this data is coming to us at real time. I think the real future progress is in engagement. The more we see growth there, the more we’ll see growth and people’s lives changed. Thanks for sharing Nick!

  15. Robbie Jones on April 20, 2020 at 11:12 am

    Hi Carey,
    I am a long time follower. I do have to admit that I cringed a little when I read your first statistics. Not enough to throw you out of the boat though 😁.

    I do know that the isolation has caused my congregation and me and my wife to tune in to watch several online services. We have enjoyed many different experiences. It has caused my team to think outside of the box to experiment and create some fun content- like “Walk & Talk Weekend Experience” that works on keeping our community connected. “Mom & the Chef” is fun as they invite us into their kitchen 3 days a week. Fun stuff as well as Daily Devotions given by different members of my staff 6 days a week has played a role in seeing an increase in our Parkway Partners group.

    Here is the biggy for me: do those who tune in to our online experiences engage with our mission? With the slight increase of those joining our Parkway Partners group and our donations somewhat holding their own is a great sign. Both has allowed us to sow financial support to a church plant trying to secure a building when things open back up. Advancing the Kingdom and helping others is what motivates me more than counting our views.

    But having church members from other congregations watch our service for a few minutes does not constitute significant growth in my mind. However, hearing of all of the families that joined us on Easter Sunday to participate in taking Communion was very encouraging.

    Keep doing what you are doing Carey!

  16. Brian Nelson on April 20, 2020 at 11:05 am

    Great article! My one thought is on Average Video Watch Time. This stat is very tricky. It’s not necessarily a great way to track, because it’s affected by your reach. For example, take the week before Easter. 1 min views – 9a-616, 11a- 451. Average Watch Time – 9a-1:30, 11a-2:36. Reach – 9a – 7.8k, 11a-3.5k. So which was better?

    Was our content better at 11a? More captivating? No. Here’s what happening. It’s because our people share the 9a way more, for whatever reason. So the video ended up on more newsfeeds of people who aren’t interested. Their 1 sec views brought our average way down. Double reach doesn’t mean double viewers, but it does mean more viewers, which is ultimately our goal. Of course engagement matters, but as I study this, I just don’t know how to do that with Watch Time unless Reach stays the same, which I don’t want. Audience Retention is similar. Both are very tricky to just jot down on a spreadsheet and use to check your growth.

    This is all so hard! I love your thoughts and we are going to implement many things you said. Comparisons to other churches don’t matter at all. It’s tracking yourself, apples to apples, and understanding your actual impact that we should count.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 20, 2020 at 11:48 am

      Glad you brought up multiple streams. I think multiple streams = multiple chances to reach people. Huge fan of that. Your last line is exactly the point: track yourself. Yes!

  17. Doru Cirdei on April 20, 2020 at 9:48 am

    Tank you Carey, for you writings! Excellent article! I love your practical approach on ministry aspects that really need to be assisted! I value you and thank God for you! Sad that I am missing you in person at ReThink Leadership Conference this year…

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 20, 2020 at 10:38 am

      Me as well! Thanks Doru for all you do.

  18. John McGowan on April 20, 2020 at 9:27 am

    Hey, Carey.

    Great content. No issues at all with tracking online attendance, even with all of its complexities. But aren’t we comparing apples to oranges when we try to compare online numbers to physical attendance numbers? I think we can all agree they’re not the same thing and, it seems to me, so much of the tension in this discussion comes from trying to equate the two.

    So, for our church, we are measuring online engagement each week but I’m not using it for a year to year comparison against last year. I’m using it to see trends in this online world – has our viewership/engagement increased week by week, or over the last six weeks? I want to know how we’re doing in this virtual world but I don’t know that it’s helpful to compare to the pre-Covid world.

    At the same time, I do think there are other metrics we can compare (how many people joined our mailing list, how many people got connected with a community group, our weekly community group attendance) with the physical world. That’s probably a separate point for another time.

    I’m curious what you think of the idea that comparing virtual to physical numbers is really an apples to oranges comparison.

    Grateful for you.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 20, 2020 at 10:37 am

      Totally agree with you an perhaps I should have put that in the post. “Views” are different than people, but as you drill down on the metrics and track engagers, then you’re getting closer to real numbers.

      Fair point though. It’s very hard to compare. See my other comment for more.

  19. Jim Jensen on April 20, 2020 at 9:00 am

    Good article that hits us in a timely manner. At our online platform, we have a quick welcome survey which includes the question of how many people are watching. Our average is 2.3.

    Lots of variables here, but in case it helps others, here is our multiplier formula:
    -total unique views X .2 (to eliminate people who are watching on one device and using their smartphone as a 2nd device for the chat)
    -subtract that total from the total unique views
    -multiply by 2.5
    we don’t count facebook users in our official numbers. We are tracking them, we know they are there but it’s secondary to our churchonline.org platform

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 20, 2020 at 10:39 am

      Glad you’re looking at real numbers! One other point I didn’t inlaced (the post was long enough already) is whether to use multipliers in on demand numbers. I lean toward no, because it seems like on demand is more of an individual thing. What are you finding?

      • Jim Jensen on April 20, 2020 at 5:07 pm

        If by on demand you mean people who are watching after our live events (pretty sure that’s what you mean) then we only count them from our primary platform (churchonline.org) for the day (Sunday). That being said we are watching the “replays” as we call them, on all platforms throughout the week.

        Carey, one thing we are debating is whether to offer additional official service times. We do two at the times of our former in-person services, which we have been doing online for years. It wouldn’t require too much more effort to do another few services at other times, such as evenings or weekdays. What do you think?

  20. Marty Mosher on April 20, 2020 at 8:50 am

    Thanks for the conversation. We are using a higher multiplier but our tech guys show us a graph on facebook live that tracks how many devices are on at any one time…and there is a flat line from the start of the service to about the end. Yes, there could be some jump ons and offs, but for the most part that flat line is what we consider the devices connected. We use a 2.5 multiplier, based on survey of a number of ‘families’ which were an accurate cross section of our demographics of singles, couples with not children, and families with children. (we have a feature for children in the service to try to engage them). That actual average was 2.8 but the survey showed a few (not many) had multiple devices. Most are watching as families at one monitor or tv. This tracks just above what our growth curve has been for the last 3 years.

    • Marty Mosher on April 20, 2020 at 8:55 am

      so even thought is says we have thousands of ‘views’, we saw that basically over 300 devices seemed to stay with the service. at 2.5 that’s 750 in attendance. Our Average attendance for last year was 545 but we are growing each year for the past 3 years at a fairly fast rate On Easter our formula estimated attendance of 1080, which tracks growth curve wise from the 924 of last year. Bottom line for us: we are convinced that we are having a bit more online than we did live, and are still ‘growing’, and we will continue to do online LIVE after we are back meeting physically (we were online but not live in realtime before)

      • Carey Nieuwhof on April 20, 2020 at 10:40 am

        Interesting. At least it’s a benchmark you can track!

  21. Mike Poff on April 20, 2020 at 8:35 am

    Hi Carey – love the post and your sense of humor. Really, how can they only stop for an average of 2.4 seconds?! Your stuff is great! Anyway, any thoughts on how to count viewers on You Tube? Do you count these straight up since someone is more apt to seek this out or do you have a multiplier in mind?

    Thanks!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 20, 2020 at 10:42 am

      Hey Mike…glad you loved the attempt at humour. I think YouTube has a similar dynamic. Check out the YouTube Analytics tab for more. You’ll learn a ton.

  22. Nate on April 20, 2020 at 8:32 am

    We use all 3 Facebook numbers to keep track of our attendance, and I think maybe your comment of “people driving by the building” is a slightly less descriptive analogy, though not entirely inaccurate. Here’s how I see it. We have 3 types of guests, and we use our auditorium as an analogy:

    1. Minute + guests are “in the seats” guests. People who have chosen to show up and be a part. Yes, these people may not watch the whole service, but I think statistics would argue that if they watch more than a minute, they’re watching most of your video.

    2. 10 Second guests are people who have chosen to come in the auditorium and check things out, but are standing in the back against the wall, and they leave after a bit. But still, they have heard SOMETHING during that time. This affects how we create our content. We should be able to connect with these people super often( knowing we only have them for maybe one key statement.

    3. 3 second guests. I think of these people as someone who literally just walked thru our auditorium during a service, maybe even by accident. But if someone asked you, “Hey Pastor, I’d roughly 3-4x your weekly attendance could just randomly walk thru your auditorium during a service for a few seconds, would you want that?” My answer is a resounding YES PLEASE! Even a few seconds of the transformative truth of Jesus can change a life! 🙂

    So definitely I want to know how many people were simply reached by each metric. Our church is in a small town, and we’re seeing our reach multiply exponentially during this season, and the feedback we’re getting supports that as well.

    Thanks for all you do to serve the church Carey!!!
    Nate

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 20, 2020 at 10:40 am

      Thanks Nate. I love your optimism.

  23. Chuck Fenwick on April 20, 2020 at 8:00 am

    This is great Carey! Thank you! A thought I had comes from someone who hasn’t dabbled in online church very much (me). I am certainly interested in how many people we are reaching right now, but I have come to the conclusion that our numbers will always be off until we can measure actual online metrics with our previous online metrics, whatever they may be. I have been feeling like trying to get a feel for online vs physical is the apple and oranges thing. At least in my simple brain it is.
    Again….this has been very helpful to begin to see where we are as some sort of comparison, but also to see where we are as move into the future church, which I feel looks a lot like our current church.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 20, 2020 at 10:41 am

      Hey Chuck. Thanks! While I appreciate the questions, I’m not sure you’re ever going to find the answer. It’s a bit like trying to compare football attendance in a stadium with a TV or internet audience. Or like record labels trying to measure CD sales against streams. They’re really quite different. You should definitely find create some online benchmarks, but you can’t assume they equal what you see in a room. It’s just different if that makes sense.

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