Online church service attendance is down all around the country. People simply aren’t filling up the pews like they used to.
Why aren’t people coming to your online services?
This question is related to a second, scarier question you’re probably asking yourself as well: “What if I invest time and energy into making our online church experience better and still no one shows up?"
We’ve all been there - put together a prayer event, Bible study, or mid-week service, rallied some volunteers, advertised on Facebook or in the church announcements… and the turnout was disappointing.
In our experience of helping hundreds of churches plan online events, low attendance usually indicated a few things:
- People didn’t know the event was happening
- The topic of the event wasn't relevant to people
- The topic could be done as an on-demand video - there wasn’t something that made it valuable as a live, interactive event. (i.e. their presence as a participant doesn’t matter to the event)
- They went to a similar event and it wasn't very compelling or was a bad experience
Whether you’re trying to solve low church attendance or safeguard against planning an upcoming event that no one shows up to, the root causes are the same. Let’s dig into each of these reasons…
People Don’t Know The Event Was Happening
It’s an obvious reason for low attendance, and the good news is that it’s easiest to fix. Even if you’ve posted on social media, forwarded emails, or sent word by carrier pigeon, people can still miss the memo. It’s important to first realize that your community isn’t ignoring you.
Your online church isn’t failing, but maybe your marketing is. Even though marketing has become so much more accessible with social media, newsletters, and email campaigns, it has become increasingly difficult to stand out in this saturated market.
Because there is a plethora of shiny graphics, compelling videos, and punchy advertisements, it’s hard to get your message across and build meaningful connections with your community.
Notifications and messages can easily get lost in the shuffle. So, what’s the solution?
They say a person needs to see something at least three times for it to make an impact. When it comes to getting the word out, there is no such thing as over-reminding people. Keep posting on social media, create a steady flow of email reminders, and don’t be shy about the repetition!
Another method that goes hand-in-hand with repetition, is church retargeting to re-engage your community as well as new visitors. Churches use targeted online advertising, social media, and SEO to bring people aware of their community and events.
While it may seem daunting to fully invest in the advertising of your community, just know that by doing this, your community could really make a difference in someone’s life.
The Topic Of The Event Wasn’t Relevant To People
When someone hears about an upcoming event, the very first thing they are thinking is “does this matter to me?”
It’s incredibly important to understand the needs of your target audience and community when planning your events. As you plan your event schedule, always return to the questions: “Will this serve my community?” and “Will this event meet my community where they are in their lives?”
You also have to take the demographics of your community into consideration. Is each age group, background, etc, being seen and valued?
Perhaps there aren’t enough events for the youth or young adults in your community. It’s no secret that many churches struggle to engage their younger members long-term - yet doing so is essential to the future of the church community. That means that now is the best time for churches to invest in their online services to make them more accessible and appealing to young people.
The key to an engaging church event should be to bring people together in fellowship. Fellowship is all about being and doing life together. Your online service shouldn’t be a passive experience through a one-way screen. There should be communication, engagement, and encouragement to get people involved. Churches can do this by first understanding the needs of their community and then creating targeted events that get people talking, interacting, and connecting with each other.
This is why it’s key to look at your online church services as a whole with the above in mind. Do you think your attendees feel welcome and included? Are you motivating them to stay involved?
Many people have been ostracized from the church for their lifestyles or other reasons, and this may make them hesitant to try your event for fear of the same treatment.
The Topic Could Have Been Done As An On-Demand Video
Nothing is worse than going to an event and realizing it’s just one or two people talking the entire time and you could have watched it on-demand, or so repetitive or circular that an hour of content could have been summarized in a one-paragraph email.
If you are brainstorming ideas for your event and feel like the topic might need additional people or points to fill up an hour, it might be more suitable as an on-demand video. But if you have an interesting guest, with opportunities for the audience to engage or ask questions running the event live will make it more meaningful to your community.
They Went To A Similar Event And It Wasn’t Very Compelling Or Was A Bad Experience
A series of lackluster events often become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If people come to an event and don't feel that it is a valuable use of their time, they are less likely to come to another event in the future.
Don’t be discouraged though, this doesn't mean you're doomed. It only takes one good experience to neutralize a bad experience.
If you think people aren’t coming because they had a poor prior experience, your first priority should be to create small interactions, events, or content that build back their trust.
Firstly, own up to a bad experience and understand what went wrong or missed the mark. Make the necessary changes.
Secondly, invite people to a future event or sermon series that really speaks to a relevant need or topic.
How To Improve Event Participation And Engagement Online
True engagement doesn’t happen overnight, but there are a few tips that will set you on the right path:
1. Content is Key
If you are offering quality, relevant, and impactful content, you are already on the path to success. Whether it’s your marketing or the online event itself, the content matter. One thing to keep in mind is people’s attention spans. The mind of your online audience is even more prone to wander than an in-person audience. If you are opting for video content, split it up into entertaining and digestible pieces to leave your community wanting more.
2. Audience Participation
Audience participation can come in many forms, big or small, so you don’t have to make it too complicated! If your audience can expect to be included, they will be more likely to stay engaged. Have your community vote in polls, write in the chat, send in questions for a Q+A, and more!
3. Face-to-Face Connection
If you’re using Altar, take advantage of Rooms and Tables. Take a little time out of your event to allow people to mingle with other people in the Event. Online fatigue is a real thing and people need some time to truly connect with each other in the space they are present.
Altar Live Helps Overcome these Obstacles
Altar Live gets churches and knows how to help.
Designed for faith communities to stream and host interactive and engaging events and services, Altar Live creates online spaces where churches can host impactful online services that will keep their community engaged. Communities can worship together in watch parties, freely socialize at virtual tables together, and find private places to pray with each other.
With a church platform like Altar Live, anyone can easily create an engaging online church service that has the ability to bring people together regardless of location.
The Altar Live team is honored to be able to provide video conferencing software, consulting & training for churches, reach every person on the other side of the screen, and create a community online.