What Do Online Viewership Numbers Really Mean for Churches?

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (BP) — Brentwood Baptist Church digital strategy director Darrel Girardier admits that he has a love-hate relationship with analytics, especially in relation to online worship and other events that are streamed on social media platforms.

Can analytics be a useful tool? Without a doubt. But can they be deceiving? Absolutely, Girardier said.

The key, he said, is to dig deeper into the numbers and understand what they really mean. Just because a particular worship service or event draws a high number of “views” doesn’t necessarily mean it was a success. The big question needs to be “was the viewer engaged?”

“There’s a tendency to equate a viewer as somebody who actually was an attendee in your worship service,” Girardier said. “(But) let’s think of it like this: If somebody came into your worship service, hung around for 30 seconds, then left, would you say they attended your worship service? … More than likely, you probably wouldn’t.”
Girardier said this is where churches need to understand the difference between someone who briefly “clicks” on the page and someone who stays on the site for an extended period of time.

“The metric that really matters to me is not the viewers; it’s the average watch time,” he said. “Are they actually watching the worship service?”

Girardier shared these comments while serving as a panelist on a webinar hosted by the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board (TBMB).

The other four panelists were Morgan Comer, digital content manager at Brentwood Baptist Church; Matthew Brown, web development manager at Brentwood Baptist and former pastor at the Rock Church in South Carolina; Alex Lyons, creative director for the South Carolina Baptist Convention; and Chris Turner, director of communications for TBMB. Bill Choate, collegiate ministries specialist for the TBMB, served as moderator.

Girardier, who worked as creative director at LifeWay Christian Resources before joining the Brentwood staff, was considered the “analytics expert” in the group, although he was quick to point out that analytics aren’t his favorite topic.

“Facebook analytics will be the death of me,” he joked.

Girardier said the tricky part about analyzing online data is avoiding the temptation to get too excited — or, in some cases, too depressed — about the number of people who “click” on any particular service or event. That number alone, he said, does not always paint an accurate picture.

“When we look at metrics, I’m looking really for two things,” he said. “One — how many people are actually going through with our call to action? And two — how long are they actually watching?”

Turner agreed that churches don’t need to focus exclusively on the number of views they are getting.

“When you talk about having different platforms and having content on different platforms, the question is: Would you rather mobilize 15 people who are really interested and may do something [or] 1,000 people who aren’t going to do anything with it?” he said.

Girardier said there is no straight answer in regard to how much emphasis churches should put on the number of views a certain event is receiving.

“There’s a whole formula that we can give you,” he said, “but the reality is I’m looking for more engagement than I am the actual total number of viewers.”

The concept of churches having a prominent online presence — including online worship, social media platforms and many other ministries — has taken on a heightened level of importance in recent months during the pandemic. With so many churches suspending their on-campus events, including worship gatherings and most other ministries, the need to stay connected through digital and virtual means has become vital.

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Source: Baptist Press