How to Track Online Church Attendance

Posted by Aaron Buer on October 29, 2020

Is your church growing?

That seems like a hard question to answer these days if only a small portion of your congregation is showing up for in-person services.

If your church is like mine, most of your church attendees are streaming your services online.  

So, how do we know if our church is growing or declining?

Do we wait until everyone is back in-person?

That could be a year from now, and I think it’s important to know the health of our church now. If we’re losing people, we need to know so we can adapt our approach to ministry.  

Here’s a suggestion: Measure your attendance versus last year’s attendance—week for week or month for month.  

Maybe you’re thinking, “but it isn’t the same! Most of our people are online. How do we figure this out? It sounds a lot like math.”

I’ll be honest, I’m not awesome at math, but I think the equation is fairly simple if you’re willing to do a little legwork.

Let me explain how our church has been measuring attendance in this season to determine whether or not we’re growing or declining.

A New Way of Counting Attendance 

Counting attendance used to be easy: Someone would walk around and count people in the service. Easy. 

Now, it’s much more complicated.

How do we compile in-person attendance with online attendance?

The online numbers can be tricky.

Do we count each connection? Does each connection count the same?

stream-serviceA single person watching your service shouldn’t count the same as a family of seven.

What do we do with this?  

I think there are a few options:

Option 1

If you’re a small church, you can contact your people through email, phone calls, or text messages and ask who attended via your online service.

One weakness of this approach is you’ll miss any guests who were watching your online service because they were previously unconnected from your church.

You don’t know who they are or how to contact them.

Option 2

Another option is to use a chat feature and ask your people to record attendance there.

This could work, but it might feel kind of awkward. “Bill is here and it’s just me…”

Option 3

Here’s how we do it: We have our live-streaming service embedded on a webpage of our website.

We used a simple pop up survey that asked, “How many people are watching with you?”

We compiled the data over four weeks and determined that, on average, 1.8 people were watching per connection.  

We now use this number to calculate our attendance. Here’s the equation:  

(In-person attendance) + (online connections x 1.8) = attendance. 

Now, if you want to be super accurate, you’ll probably want to look into the analytics of the streaming service you’re using to broadcast your worship services.

Why? Because anything less than a 30-second connection should not be considered an actual connection.

It’s more likely an accidental connection or not a real human.

If YouTube doesn’t count less than 30 seconds as an actual connection, our churches shouldn’t either.  

If you want to be super, super accurate, you could also count the number of people who watch the worship service later in the week.

They are still connecting, just not during the regular  service times.    

So, a full equation might look like this:

In-person attendance + (Online Connections – Connections less than 30 seconds)
x 1.8 + midweek views = Attendance 

Are We Growing?

Back to the question we asked at the beginning of this post-Is your church growing?

Well, the way to answer that question is by comparing your current attendance against your pre-COVID attendance.

Personally, I think the most helpful way to compare is this week’s (or month’s) attendance vs. the same week (or month) from 2019.

Another helpful number is this month versus last month.  

If, like my church, you had an online presence before COVID then you’ll need to adjust your attendance calculations from last year’s numbers.

In other words, use the same equation to adjust last year’s attendance numbers so that you are making a “like for like” comparison. 

If I had to guess, your church isn’t growing.

I only say this because ours isn’t. At least, not according to the numbers.

We’re seeing somewhere in the neighborhood of a 25% reduction in attendance vs. the same month in 2019.  

What does this mean? I’m honestly not exactly sure yet.

Some church experts have suggested that the frequency of church attendance has declined during the pandemic.

Recent numbers show church attenders are now attending a mere 1.7 times per month.

It could be that lower frequency is causing the reduction in attendance numbers, which would mean that our people haven’t left; they’re just showing up less often. 

Either way, we have some challenges ahead of us.

And yet, I think there are reasons to be optimistic.

Why? Because we’re seeing increased engagement from our core.

I believe this is important and I will share some thoughts on this in future posts.  

Wrap Up

I hope this has been helpful.

These are weird times and weird times require weird math to understand whether or not we’re growing.  

If you have any wisdom here or a better equation, we’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment below.

Topics: Advice

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