The Broadcast vs. Engagement Model For Churches

People who watched your church’s sermon online 2 weeks ago only remember 20% of what you said.

If you happened to use a couple images or even a video, they might remember 30 - 50% of what you talked about.

However, there is one thing that will not only increase retention of your sermon to 90%, but also the likelihood that people will actually put it into practice: the ability to participate in a discussion right after the service.

Countless studies show that people learn from immersive experiences. But most online church services are far from being immersive.

Currently among churches there are two main approaches to structuring, designing, and hosting online church services:

  • The broadcast model: a one-way livestream that people watch, with minimal invitation or opportunity to participate.
  • The engagement model: a two-way conversation with your online audience that invites participation and interaction.

Church live streaming is stuck in a broadcast model: one-way live streaming to an audience. But church is not meant to just produce an audience.

What does it look like to do it differently? Let’s explore the two models.

Broadcast Model

For the most part, churches generally have the same structure to their weekend worship services:

  • Singing
  • Preaching
  • Socializing after the service

When a church decides to start offering an online option to their services, it’s relatively straight-forward to livestream the preaching, and even the singing

However, many people will tell you that one of the most cherished parts of coming to an in-person church service are the moments of running into someone in the hallway and catching up on life.

Most churches with an online presence struggle to find ways to help people on the other side of the screen do more than just watch.

The broadcast model is defined as a one-way livestream that people watch, with minimal invitation or opportunity to participate.

As an online attendee, when you tune into this type of online service, you watch the service, maybe say hello in the chat, and then continue with your day.

In many ways, it makes sense that the broadcast model is the default because the tools we use don’t allow for much more than playing a video and leaving some comments.

People still want and need communities to belong to (perhaps even more than pre-COVID), but unless churches change their online model, they will end up with this pattern:

  • The people who already have a relationship with the church will continue to watch regularly.
  • Some of those people who already have a relationship with the church will watch occasionally, but they start to float elsewhere.
  • New people will watch once or twice, but if they don’t make an immediate connection with someone at the church or are really motivated to get plugged in, chances are they will keep hopping around to keep trying to find somewhere they can experience community and belonging.

Engagement Model

When your community is working, you can feel it. There’s a tangible energy and excitement. How do you create that kind of environment?

The engagement model is defined as a two-way conversation with your online audience that invites participation and interaction.

Upgrading your camera and audio equipment is great for the quality of content and improves attention, but it has little impact on the quality of the relationship with your online audience.

The key to an engagement model involves creating welcoming and safe spaces for people to continue the conversation. 

In other words, consider adopting a “living room” approach. Think about how you can create a place online where people can get to know each other, build trust, and slowly be able to be vulnerable with each other. A place where two-way relationships start to happen, not just one-way viewership.

Ingredients to an Engaging Online Church Service:

  1. Tell them what to expect & why it’s worth their time

The opportunity for scrolling away or getting distracted is exponentially higher when watching online than joining in-person. Give people online a reason to stay.

What are you about to do by coming together as a community in this shared time and space online together?

  1. Build in opportunities for response

You know you are using a broadcast model if your services begin to feel more like a monologue than a dialogue. 

Give people permission at home to be a part of the conversation and adjust your services or events to accommodate for opportunity to respond.

  • Chat
  • Polls
  • Video conference rows & tables (on Altar Live)
  • QR code on screen
  • Text-in option
  1. Make people’s presence matter

People are far more likely to continue coming back week after week if they feel known and seen. 

Welcome people by name in the comments.

Bring people on screen from home.

  1. Continue the conversation after the service

What makes an online church different from a Netflix show is the ability to process and learn alongside other people together. Whether it’s by moving everyone into the virtual Lobby on platforms like Altar Live or inviting people to small groups later in the week, allowing people to join the conversation is a key ingredient to creating ownership in an online community.


People don’t just learn by hearing or watching a sermon. We are social learners, which means one of the main ways to learn is from observing, imitating, and interacting with role models and peers.

Live streaming tools and online platforms have given churches an incredible opportunity to teach the gospel in new ways to more people. How much more transformative could more online services become by adopting an immersive, engagement model?

It's not rocket-science, but it does take a willingness to experiment and try something new. Are you up for the challenge? Let's talk!