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.
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 may account for not 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.
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 currently no way to record this in the general statistics. However, I am considering introducing such a metric for local conference use this year.
At this stage, it is not clear exactly how we will request worship participation data in the annual statistical return. Averages can be very deceptive when the patterns of worship change so radically during the year. I would, therefore, advise churches at this stage to record, each week, the numbers participating in worship in the following categories:
I will have more information on our end of year recording process in good time before the annual return is due.
In the meantime, if you have questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact me.
Phone: (530) 217-3550 [Availability: 6am - 2pm PT]
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