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Please Don’t Make ‘How Many Watched Online?’ Our New Ministry Metric

Please Don't Make 'How Many Watched Online?' Our New Ministry Metric

It’s a whole new ballgame. In a matter of just a few weeks, churches all around the world have a new standard for measuring ministry success: how many watched online.

And I’m trying not to be cynical about it.

So here’s my best shot at a non-cynical (but certainly skeptical) take on this.

What’s Good About Online Church

I’m grateful every time I hear that a church now has as many or more people watching their online services than they had attending their in-person services.

Better that than a drop-off of numbers, for sure.

But let’s be honest about what’s happening here.

Recently, there’s been a lot of helpful information about how engagement is a better metric than attendance. I fully agree with that assessment.

But if engagement is a better metric than attendance, eyeballs on a screen is a worse one. At-home viewers are far less engaged than bodies in the room ever were.

Online And Distracted

We all know how online viewing goes.

We watch while we’re cooking, eating, chatting, Tweeting and working out.

Even if we lay all of that aside, people who sit at home and watch a screen are far less engaged in the experience than when they were in the room together.

An Incomplete Metric

Obviously, that’s all we have right now. And I’m truly grateful we have it.

Even when we’re able to meet together again, keeping an online presence will be an important way to reach new people and keep connected with absent members.

But.

Let’s be careful not to replace one incomplete, even unreliable metric (attendance) with one that’s even less reliable (online viewership).

Online church is here to stay. Our congregation does it, and we’ve learned how to do it even better because of the necessity of this moment.

But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that having more online eyeballs is an adequate measure of any church’s health or ministry success.

The Online Onramp

At best, a church’s online presence is an onramp. The most important one we have right now, for sure.

But an onramp is not the endgame.

Discipleship is a long, multi-step process. If an online experience starts someone on that road, that’s great!

So, if we use the current online experience as a first step towards fully-engaged discipleship, it will have served a noble purpose. But if all we do is count eyeballs like we counted attendance, it will be a step backwards.

At some point – as soon as we’re able – that online experience must translate into real-life, flesh-and-blood, in-person, disciple-making reality.

When we do that we’ll have some success worth measuring.

This article about how many watched online originally appeared here.

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Karl is the author of four books and has been in pastoral ministry for almost 40 years. He is the teaching pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, a healthy small church in Orange County, California, where he has ministered for over 27 years with his wife, Shelley. Karl’s heart is to help pastors of small churches find the resources to lead well and to capitalize on the unique advantages that come with pastoring a small church. Karl produces resources for Helping Small Churches Thrive at KarlVaters.com, and has created S.P.A.R.K. Online (Small-Church Pastors Adapt & Recover Kit), which is updated regularly with new resources to help small churches deal with issues related to the COVID-19 crisis and aftermath.