How to avoid using bad online metrics

11/2/2020

GROWING IN GRACE
BEN GOSDEN


There’s not a lot we can agree on in such a hectic year. But surely we can agree on the fact that COVID-19 has called into question lots of ways we’ve always understood how to be the church. From an over-emphasis on buildings to how we embody the gospel in socially distanced ways, this year has been a year where the learning curve has been high for pastors and lay people alike.

Among the many things called into question is the validity or effectiveness of measuring participation in the church. Specifically, online worship has officially called into question the ways we measure what we do in the church because counting is very different in a digital world. For example, churches tend to make worship attendance the first and primary measurement for effectiveness. And that’s fairly easy in a physical world — how many butts occupied a pew on a given Sunday and, voila, there you have it. Now that online worship has become such an important form of worship, the counting process gets much more complicated.

I want to cover a couple of basic myths in counting online metrics in the hope that we could begin to identify better ways and better things to count instead of the same old, tired metrics…

Myth 1: Total Views Equals Total Attendance

Total views measures the number of people who view a post on Facebook. This number is also the largest number in the analytics section for any given post. We must learn to avoid the fallacy that bigger numbers equal more effectiveness. A view is registered when someone pauses as they scroll by your post. It does not count actual engagement. In the physical world we would never count the number of cars that drive by our building in our weekly worship attendance. Likewise, we can’t count the number of people who happen to scroll by our post. Total views does not equal total attendance. Hard stop.

Myth 2: Use a Multiplier When Counting Online Metrics

Different “experts” will tell you to use different multipliers in an attempt to get the most accurate number of viewers possible. Some measure as high as 2.65 and others measure around 1.5 or 1.7. Avoid the trap of fuzzy math! Again, we must learn to avoid the fallacy that bigger numbers equal more effectiveness. It’s better to establish a baseline using the more straightforward numbers possible. One viewer equals one view. This 1-to-1 measurement will allow you to have a more honest baseline and give you a more accurate place to grow from.

Myth 3: You Should NOT Count Views Only

The days of counting passive numbers are over. Counting butts in seats or simple views online do not correspond to engagement. We must expand how we measure engagement in worship. Facebook allows you to see how many people watch, how long they watch, where they watch from, etc. We have begun counting the following numbers in our online worship count:

  1. Peak views on Facebook
  2. One-minute views on Facebook;
  3. Average length of view on Facebook; and
  4. Total online numbers across platforms.
Gauging how long someone watches online worship helps clarify how engaged they are.

What Really Matters in Our Counting?

COVID-19 is finally teaching us the goal of worship (and the church) is to drive engagement, not just to count people present. Instead of getting overly excited over more views, we need to build pathways that measure engagement. This means churches must consider both the digital 1-to-many experience (worship) AND the 1-to-few (small groups, studies, discipleship opportunities, etc.).

Below are just a few of the ways you can measure engagement beyond just views:
  • New people click on and submit an online connection card
  • New small groups formed online
  • People who engage in online content designed for discipleship growth, not just weekly worship
All of this online measuring is new. And we’re all on a learning curve. COVID-19 may well be the final word on whether churches should focus more on how many people we reach versus how many people engage and grow in their faith. This could be the greatest opportunity for change the church has seen this century!

Question: What are you learning about online metrics?

The Rev. Ben Gosden is senior pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Savannah. He can be reached at ben@trinity1848.org.