Tracking Worship Attendance

The challenge in 2020

While our church doors remain closed but worship continues, in its many and varied online and offline forms, I would like to take the opportunity to remind churches that, in early 2021, we will be asking for statistics on worship attendance – which is one of the principal measures that we use to determine church vitality. We understand, of course, that 2020 statistics will be unlike any year in the past, and that comparability with past years will be extremely difficult. I hope, however, that we can make our best effort to record worship participation at this time.

Online worship

Those who complete the annual statistical return will know, of course, that since 2017 there has been a question about online worship attendance (line 7a). The number of churches using this has, however, been very small – something I expect to be different in 2020.

The instructions for this line are as follows: Report here average weekly number of unique viewers who access worship online. This includes those live streaming your worship service and views/downloads of recorded worship services (audio or video), sermons, and/or podcasts. Do not include generic hits/visits to your website.

This may not, however, give sufficient guidance and GCFA have recently issued some further clarification around this:

For online views, count anyone listening online for whom the church has evidence of participation. This can be done through an online check-in process or through analytic software associated with your streaming platform. Confirm that the analytics demonstrate that the person viewed the worship for a significant portion. Create a standard and stick to it consistently. Be aware that some platforms’ analytics –like Facebook –will even count someone scrolling by as a hit. You should filter down to those who “attended” a significant portion of your stream.

This method isn’t perfect, and it likely will not account for counting groups or families watching together. Just remember that your online attendance (during shelter in place orders) will most likely be similar to your prior combined in-person and online worship totals are when you hold a service in the sanctuary. And as with everything else, remember that you are trying to report accurate and fair information to the best of your ability.

Offline worship

In addition, there may be people who would normally be part of in-person worship who are not able to join in online worship, but to whom churches are delivering offline material – CDs, DVDs, printed services. There is a new line (line 7b) for 2020 to record this sort of interaction.

Averages

In a normal year, we would ask that churches average attendance (in-person or online) across the entire year, regardless of whether worship was held. For 2020, this is not the case.

Please report averages over the number of weeks when that form of worship was actually offered. So, for example, if in-person worship were only offered on 20 weeks during the year, add up the number of people attending on those weeks, and divide by 20 (not 52). As a result, this number may be closer to the number reported for 2019.

Summary

With the best will in the world, comparisons between worship attendance (and other things) for 2020 and for previous (and most likely, later) years will probably be meaningless. We will, therefore, be avoiding comparisons when we report on this to the Annual Conference.  What we would ask is that churches do their best to provide a consistent indication of the strength of their fellowship in 2020. God willing, we will be able to move to a more stable pattern in future years.

If you have questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Adrian Pell
Conference Statistician
Email: statistics@calnevumc.org
Phone: (530) 217-3550 [Availability: 6am - 2pm PT]

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