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Guide to counting virtual worship attendance

Guide to computing

Year-end reports are coming. This is the standardized guide to counting virtual worship attendance for the Michigan Conference.

Starting mid-March, many of our churches launched a new online worshiping community when in-person worship was no longer possible because of COVID-19. It has been a challenge to determine how many people are engaged with virtual worship across a variety of platforms. Further, some persons worship live, while others view a recorded service later in the day or week.

The Michigan Conference now offers this “Standardized Guide” to help congregations count their virtual attendance. These guidelines are based on information from the General Council on Finance and Administration, consultant Carey Nieuwhof, the National Network of UMC Congregational Developers, the Church of the Resurrection, and conversations with pastors in the Michigan Conference.

Look at the Analytics

Facebook and YouTube, the two platforms most used for virtual worship have breakdowns to show Peak Live Views, 3-second, 10-second, and 30-second views.  It is also possible to track post engagement numbers (viewing after the live worship service). Zoom is simple; you count those actually in attendance.

To access Facebook Page Insights, go to the Facebook Page, and click Insights in the top menu. (If Insights does not show in the menu, click More to bring it up.) Insights goes straight to your Overview, which you can now access any time by clicking Overview in the left-hand menu. YouTube provides a good tutorial on Facebook Analytics. YouTube also provides an easy to understand Analytics page

  1. It is recommended that you use Peak Live Stream Viewers. As with any worship service, some people show up late, some get up to go to the restroom, refill their coffee cup, or check on their kids in the nursery. Peak Live Steam Viewers will give you a good average of those watching.
  2. Next, determine how many people are viewing from each screen/device. Many studies of worship attendance have found that an average of 1.8 viewers watch together on the same screen. (This may vary with your congregation. You can do surveys of your congregation to get a more accurate average. Or, you can use the standard 1.8 viewers).
  3. Then, count those who watch later in the day or week. These post-service viewers usually watch the entire service, or at least the entire message. You should only count those with 30-minute views.

Do the math

So, here is the equation for computing Line 7a of your Year-end Report.

Peak Live Stream Viewers x Viewers/device + post-service viewers = Estimated Attendance

Here’s an example:

If you have 90 Peak Live Stream Viewers x 1.8 Viewers/device + 25 post-service viewers = your estimated average attendance is 187.

If you have questions regarding this guide or the standardized equation, please contact Director for Congregational Vibrancy Dirk Elliott (delliott@michiganumc.org | 517-347-4030 x 4090). Have questions about completing the tables? Contact Statistician Pamela Stewart (pstewart@michiganumc.org | 517-347-4030 x4137).

Thank you for the efforts being taken to reach your members, neighbors, and others during a season of ministry that is difficult and different in so many ways.