Counting Worship Amidst Covid-19

Let’s talk counting worship participation in the age of Covid-19. I’m not really going to engage in if we should count or if we should care about numbers. If counting isn’t your thing, that’s fine. For me, at a time when we are preaching to empty rooms any sort of feedback is welcome, even if it comes in the form of numbers and graphs. I like know if folks are engaging in what we are putting out and since the camera is only one-way metrics is all we got. I’m going to cover the two major ways most are putting content out into the world, Facebook and YouTube. They each offer different metrics and I believe have different use cases. At our church we use both depending on what the content is. First let’s look at Facebook. Facebook On your page, under “More” on the top bar, you’ll find “Publishing Tools.” Under there on the left you’ll find “Video Library” where all your posted, premiered, and livestream videos are kept. Clicking on any one of those will bring up the basic metrics screen for that video that will look something like the one below. You’ll see it gives you different counts based on how long people watched.

Some important notes about these counts:

  • When Facebook displays “Views” it is displaying 3-second views. Personally, I’m not sure this is a helpful number.

  • The longest duration is 1-minute views, so that’s likely the best number you have.

  • If it was a live stream there will also be “Peak Live Viewers.” This is the largest number of people watching at one time while you were live. This is the closest you will get to what we typically count as in person attendance.

So, if you are doing most of your video work on Facebook and want a simple metric to follow 1-minute views and/or Peak Live Viewers are your best bet. YouTube YouTube offers different metrics than Facebook. You will find them under “YouTube Studio” when you are logged into your account. On the left click on “Videos” then the tab for “Uploads” or “Live” depending if it was a posted video or a livestream. Hover over the video title and some icons will appear. Click the one that looks like a bar graph. YouTube is not as transparent about what it counts as a “View” as Facebook. Generally, a view is counted if 1) a user intentionally initiates watching it (clicks on it) and 2) Watches a total of at least 30 seconds. So, views on YouTube are more useful than Facebooks 3-second views, but not quite as helpful as Facebook 1-minute views. What YouTube does offer is a better look into retention. If you look at the Analytics of a video you uploaded to YouTube you’ll see in the overview section “Audience Retention.” Here you can see how many folks watched for how long. For longer content like a full worship service you obviously want good retention.

Under the Audience tab you also have another helpful number “Unique Viewers.” While the same person may watch the same content more than once we probably only want to count them once. So unique viewers are very helpful. If you livestream to YouTube you can see the max number of concurrent viewers like Facebook with the addition of a chart showing that number over the life of your stream. So, for example, you can see that full participation come a few minutes into the example below.

So, the numbers to pay attention to here are “unique viewers” and “concurrent viewers” for livestreams. That said, if your retention graph shows only half of your unique viewers are sticking with the content you need to take that into account when you think about how many views you really had. Because we livestream our worship to YouTube we use “Concurrent Viewers” as our metric of choice. For a recent worship we had a max of 92 concurrent viewers and, after a few days of it being online, 133 unique viewers. The difference comes because unique viewers catches those who may time shift and watch it later or those who just watched a small part. Multiplier The only thing Facebook and YouTube can count is how many devices are interacting with your content. They have no idea how many eyeballs are on the other end of the screen. When we worshiped in person our church typically saw 140-160 on a normal Sunday. So, is 92 concurrent more or less folks? Well, that depends on how many people are watching together. No doubt individuals are joining us but so are families. We do offer a way for people to register their attendance online. When we look at that data we see the average number of people joining from each family is about 2.15 folks. So, rounding down, we multiply our concurrent viewers by two to get a reasonable estimate. (Note, I think this is only valid for livestream or premiered worship, not other forms of content. Worship is something we tend to do together and at a proscribed time. I imagine the multiplier for other forms of content or people watching later is far lower as most people watch individually on their portable devices.) Conclusion So how should you count? Well you certainly can get more sophisticated if you want to looking at things like total minutes watch and start doing some math based on that. I’m not sure that’s worth it. Here is what I think is important:

  • Pick a way to measure and stick with it. Numbers over time are what we are really after. Is your audience growing or not?

  • Facebook 3-second view count is worthless given we are talking about longer form content.

  • Best substitute for our normal worship attendance counting is “Concurrent viewers” if you are doing livestreaming.

  • Second best would be unique viewers or 1-minute views at the end of the day Sunday.

What you should be looking for here is trends, just like with normal worship attendance tracking. There are no end of variables for why one worship might be different from another so don’t live and die by the week to week. Perhaps take average of a month’s worth and compare month to month. No matter what, recognize that any counting we do is a shallow measure online or in-person. If even one person finds some renewed hope through your efforts it is likely worth it.

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