After a year of online worship, when the Annual Parochial Report came around, many rostered ministers and congregational leaders were caught wondering how to count online attendance?  It’s not like the ushers up in the balcony counting heads.

The ELCA gave a guideline for the parochial report and that is to multiply views by 2.  For the sake of consistency this is probably the formula you should use (or already have used if you are on top of things since they were due in February).

However, if you are looking for a more accurate view for your own situation, this may not be the most the best guideline.  This assumes there are two people watching for every view recorded.  This metric really changes based on where you are located and what the demographics are in your congregation.

Know your Congregation and Community Demographics

Pastor Dave Daubert, Pastor at Zion Lutheran in Elgin, Illinois, Lead Consultant and Managing Partner for Day 8 Strategies Lead and author of several books, including the Hybrid Church, shares some examples of how complicated tracking attendance can be:

  • Congregation A is an older, white, and more affluent group with most members in their 60s.  The average person watching per screen is 1.3 They have a maximum live views of 56, unique viewers of 73 and 114 one-minute views.
  • Congregation B is a younger Latinx ministry with large families and several of them are economically challenged.  Their average person watching per screen is 2.8.  They have a maximum live views of 47, unique viewers of 62 and 97 one-minute views.

So, who has the larger attendance?

We need more information. Here are some key principles:

  • The later people watch, the lower the person/screen ratio will likely be.
  • Sunday worship is more likely to be a family/group activity (screen rates higher)
  • If people watch later, they tend to find a time that is more convenient and watch alone (1 person/screen)
  • Family structure dictates patterns
  • Empty nesters (the largest family demographic in ELCA collectively) max out at less than 2/household
  • Young families with kids in elementary school or younger tend to watch more often as a family (high person/screen ratio)
  • Families whose kids are older tend to have fewer people and fewer people/screen (low person/screen ratio)
  • Ethnicity may impact screen rates significantly
  • Family structures and values within cultures
  • Access to technology due to economic and structural patterns of access The lower the income the higher the person/screen ratio will likely be.
  • Lower bandwidth to support streaming multiple devices.
  • Less devices due to costs

As you can see, you need to know who your congregation is.

This is the formula Pastor Daubert recommends:

  • Same day 1-minute view x 1.7 (your screen view ratio may vary depending upon your congregation demographics)  
  • All one-minute views for a week after x 1.

“So, if I have 62 one-minute views plus 43 other one-minute views through the week then attendance = (62 x 1.7) + 43 = 148”

What is most important is that you adopt a consistent way to track your attendance so you can note trends

If you are tearing your hair out at how complicated it is, just remember what is most important is that you adopt a consistent way to track your attendance so you can note trends – are you gaining or losing viewers?  Is there anything, in particular, you can associate with a rise or fall in viewers?

Pay attention to Engagement. How are you engaging people who view your worship online?

Pay attention to likes, comments and shares, these are ways of gauging engagement. 

Do you have hosts who greet people on your Livestream? 

Why not ask in the chat “How many are there of you watching?” Ask in the chat if they have prayer requests. Add information of how guests can get in contact with the pastor or find out more about the congregation.

Encourage your members online to share the video or livecast of their worship.  Encourage and teach people how to host a Facebook live watch party. 

Digital Worship is here to stay.

Hopefully, the pandemic will be ending in the near future and we will gather again in person.  But many people who have been watching online will not join you in person and the likelihood is online worship is here to stay.  The digital skills we have learned (even if under duress) will help us continue to spread the good news of God’s love for all people into the future.

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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.