Certainly we are all learning new methods and rhythms in ministry as a result of the pandemic. Many churches adjusted and began online worship services. Others that were already providing online worship services made modifications. Some churches have been started utilizing primarily online venues.
The 2020 annual report was set up with the 2019 average already filled in. That’s the number we and most other denominations will use for 2020 with a few exceptions for new churches.
We also added a few 2020 questions as to how many Sundays a church met physically and the average for those Sundays to help give us a picture of what was happening in regard to churches restarting physical services, etc.
Many, if not all, denominations have been wrestling with how to count those who attend online services. Some have gone with very liberal counts of all people who have clicked on the service even though some of those might be duplicates or only on for a very short amount of time. Others have gone through a variety of verification methodologies, registration options and online hosts/teams to interact and provide another level of verification.
Even as the pandemic crisis diminishes most leaders are predicting ongoing online attendance. Some newer churches have made online options integral to their ministry from the beginning.
We have been looking at options for how to include online attendees in a reasonable manner. After reviewing a variety of options we are encouraging churches to provide a means of registration for online viewers.
Some church administrative software tools (Church Center, Church Online etc.) include a registration portal for online viewers. There are other ways to do it within church website software or with other tools. Some website programs include simple registration tools that can be used for people to register their attendance online. It also comes along with some giving software.
We encourage churches to begin including and counting online viewers as long as they utilize some means of those viewers registering their attendance for themselves and those in their household or the church has a means of viewing and verifying the number of attendees. It is reasonable to multiply the number of devices by 1.5 to determine a fairly accurate number of viewers or participants, if you can only register devices.
Helpful Online Ministry Information:
- Having online hosts opens the door for verification, encouraging registration, tracking, interaction, ministering to needs and building relationships. One to two hosts per 100-150 people works well. It is even better if one of the hosts is a part of the pastoral team (doesn’t work as well in single staff churches) and one host with a prayer focus. Hosts can also be a useful means of tracking the number of participants in formats such as Zoom or other programs where a registration system may not be available.
- Treating the online service as its unique setting helps. Online preview clips, interviews, providing information and interaction opportunities, etc. help to engage the unique audience. This should be more than simply viewing the in person service.
- Watch for gremlins and trolls. Have a plan to deal with them. Most online church systems have automatic filters for the chats along with the ability to block or remove problem people.
- Have a clear understanding of what the online ministry is about. It needs to communicate we are expecting you and want to engage you.
- Statistics from You Tube and Facebook are less reliable and harder to analyze than some of the platforms such as Church Online. Many, if not most, churches do not include stats from those sources.