Don’t let your Facebook or YouTube views fool you. Whether you have a small number of viewers or what you consider a large amount, they don’t equate to the number of people who would actually be sitting in your pews each week. Facebook counts a view after a user has watched a video for three seconds and YouTube counts a view after 30 seconds. With multiple church services online, a visitor might view your service for a few minutes and then move to another service and be counted as a viewer there also. Church hopping has gone virtual.

People’s attention span is shorter and they have plenty of distractions. A study by found that after two minutes viewers begin to drop off, and after 12 minutes your viewership decreases further if your video isn’t interesting or engaging.

The good thing is that your members know you and for the most part are loyal to your livestream. Yet, unlike having members in a pew, they are seated at home with multiple distractions vying for their attention.

Attendance and engagement

So how do you count attendance online? How do you turn viewers into engagers?

Start by keeping in mind that there’s a real person on the other end of the screen. What are their needs and what do they expect? If you aren’t sure, look at your Facebook or YouTube insights or analytics to learn more about your viewers. Change your mindset from members to partners.

You can also gauge your overall engagement and attendance by measuring who or how many people are giving each week through the Adventist Giving app. Has the number gone up or down?

Are you engaging your viewers with real-time interaction? Since we know two minutes is the sweet spot for online video engagement, acknowledge your audience by responding to comments left in your feed within the first two minutes so those who are viewing know that you see them and care about what they have to say.

Jamie Jean Schneider Domm from the North American Division’s Social Media + Big Data department shares in her article The Change We Need, “this may feel like a distraction from the sermon, but understand that your audience (especially young people) have already been accessing social media while you preach.” Real-time interaction is a vital enhancement to their worship experience. She goes on to say, “Acknowledge your audience, engage directly with them, and encourage comments, likes, and shares. Ask them to open their Bibles and follow along with the scriptures. You can even encourage them to take notes or type in answers to your questions in the comments section of the livestream.”

Domm offers two other suggestions for engaging your online community:

  • Rethink your service and music. Remember, put yourself in your online audience’s shoes. What are they supposed to do during song service? Some may sing along, but most won’t. It’s awkward to watch people singing and pretending a congregation is singing with them. Consider having special music instead and, overall, keep music interludes brief.
  • Shorten the service. Don’t try to fill the same amount of time as a regular church service, and eliminate dead space where nothing is happening.

In addition, I would recommend adding a call to action by asking your viewers to do something. You can offer a free download on your website that they can study. Since you have shortened your sermon, you can now offer those insights in a study guide. Invite them to come back for a discussion on the study guide later that day or the next.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see instant change in your views or engagement. The goal is to be consistent and faithful in providing authentic content to your online audience that is always available, even when you are not.

One pastor shared with me that he received a call from a man who had visited his church’s YouTube channel after searching for information on a particular topic. This man found a sermon the pastor had preached years earlier and was so impressed that he asked for Bible studies. You aren’t only creating engaging content for today’s audience, but also for those who will seek the gospel tomorrow.