Church Online: Who is it really for?
To paraphrase an old saying, “If it’s for everyone it’s for no one.”
The idea being you can’t please everyone so you have to pick a subset of your audience as a priority when creating something.
Over the last few months of stay-at-home orders and church online, I have wondered how much this saying plays into how we build our online worship services in the new normal.
Are our online services for everyone? Everyone on the internet is a lot of people. Are they prioritized for our members and regular attendees? Maybe some group in between?
In thinking about it, let’s first take a moment to explore why specifying an audience, or segmenting your larger audience, can be extremely helpful in both creating an online worship experience as well as determining what success looks like.
Have an Audience in Mind*
Segmenting an audience is nothing new for churches. We do it in a broad sense when we have multiple worship services. Do you have a traditional and a contemporary service? You’ve segmented your audience and built a worship experience that will be special for that group.
Maybe you have children and youth ministries at your church. You’ve made the determination that one size doesn’t actually fit all and you need a different ministry approach for young children versus high school seniors.
Identifying some basic demographics and characteristics of your audience helps you to provide a more meaningful experience for them.
If you had to narrow your audience for church online each week, what would that audience be?
- Older adults
- Young Families
- A Certain Culture
All of those and more play into the type of online worship that would be most meaningful and draw that audience.
Your Audience Defines Success
One thing I tell friends to ask potential employers when they’re interviewing for a new job is this:
“What does success look like for this position?”
and the follow-up question,
“How will the organization provide support so success is possible?”
This is often where churches drop the ball. I’ve seen many churches put a focus on family ministry, for example, and hire a family ministries director, only to have them quit or be fired within a year or two.
The problem: They hadn’t defined success for the position and didn’t have a plan in place to provide the necessary resources and support for the person in the position to succeed.
By not defining success and planning for it, they positioned the Family Ministries Director themselves as the success. Success was hiring the director, so it was all downhill from there.
The same goes for church online. You need to know what success looks like or you’ll drown in vague statistics and unending possibilities.
You determine success by knowing your audience and what they need.
Determine your Church Online Audience
So, what does your church online audience look like? Is it your current members and regular attendees? Is it a segment of your local community? Is your geographic audience larger?
All questions we need to ask ourselves to point toward success.
When you’ve determined your audience you can begin to decipher statistics. Online viewing stats can be hard to understand.
If your audience is current members and regular attendees, then things peak live viewers, live audience retention, and live engagement (comments, likes, shares) will be important.
If you’re searching for a broader audience, you’ll want to look at unique viewers, average view time, and overall audience retention.
I published another post on why you need to throw out your old order of worship (for now) to increase audience retention online.
If you have determined your audience you can craft a worship experience that is meaningful to them within their context. That will look different for older adults, young families, suburban or urban audiences.
Don’t look at it as catering to a group at the detriment of theology or being worshipful. Look at it as meeting people where they are just as Jesus did.
After you’ve created the online worship experience that is most meaningful to your audience, give it a few weeks or a month and then go back and analyze the statistics and engagement.
Is it what you expected? Better? Worse? How can you adjust what you offer to have a greater impact?
How has your church adapted since church online became our current normal? How might you adapt as you drill down on a specific audience? Leave a comment here or on Facebook.
*Note: Having a specific audience doesn’t restrict your worship from people outside that audience. You will always have people outside your target that find what you’re doing meaningful.
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