Easter Internet Church Attendance – Is there anything to learn from the numbers?

Easter is awesome.  I grew up in Eastern Europe and when it came to holidays, Easter easily beat Christmas.  Although Easter doesn’t have the same appeal in the U.S. as other holy days, it’s still the highest traditional church attendance day of the year. I’m always excited to celebrate Easter, but this year I was rather excited about the day after Easter.  I couldn’t wait to look at the Easter online church attendance numbers for my clients.

 

Expectations

In my conversations with churches, I saw expectations for Internet church attendance at both ends of the spectrum:

 

  1. Some of my churches were expecting a big drop.  The logic is simple: Easter is the biggest church attendance day of the year.  Those who engage through the Internet Campus are still church members and prospective members—the same demographic that shows up for traditional services.  If they showed up in person, the online audience would, naturally, drop accordingly.
  2. Others were expecting a huge number of online attendees.  One church in particular has a large media presence and draws an online audience in the tens of thousands for their week-long conferences and some of their other special events, in addition to having a very large regular in-person attendance.  Based on their experience, they felt that, along with a very healthy in-person attendance increase, they would see a similar increase online.

 

I’m curious at what my readers’ assumptions are and the reasoning behind those assumptions. Before you read any further, please share what you think in the comments below.

 

Sample Churches

 

I looked at a combined data of approximately 15 different online churches. In addition, I chose two churches that are of similar methodology/theology to ask what their in-person attendance was on Easter.

 

One has a median age of about 50; the other is around 30.  One is considered very “modern” in terms of service style and presentation. Think dark sanctuary, loud modern worship, coffee shop in the lobby and a lot of 30-somethings sipping lattes while listening to the sermon. The other has a very nice new building, but it’s much more traditional. Think hymnals and pews and the parents of that other crowd enjoying the message sans caffeinated beverage. The one thing both churches have in common: they have pastors and staff that truly love people, are very outreach-minded, and serve their congregation with excellence.

 

The Numbers

 

For the 15-church sample, I looked at the weekend before Easter (March 24), Easter (March 31), and the next following weekends, April 7 and April 14. I used the weekend prior to Easter as the base average online attendance for those churches.

 

From March 24 to March 31 (Easter) there was no change.

On April 7, there was 7% drop

On April 14, we were back to March 24 levels.

 

For the 2-church sample, I looked strictly at in-person attendance on Easter. One had approximately a 26% increase in their in-person attendance, and the other had over a 30% increase.

 

Questions and Conclusions:

 

If in-person attendance was up on Easter, why didn’t the online attendance drop accordingly?  My initial inclination was to think that maybe all the regular Internet campus attendees went to church in person and then a new group of viewers, who live far away and are unable to attend in person, decided to watch online. A look at the geographical data of the viewer’s quickly disproves that theory.

 

Comparing the online church data for March 24–April 14, about 70% of the viewers lived within driving distance of the church (35 miles). Clearly, the vast majority of these people could have gone to church in person, but they chose to watch online.

 

It seems that many more people go to church on Easter, but that does not decrease online attendance for most churches on that weekend. These numbers suggest that offering an online church experience doesn’t give people an excuse to stay home and does not cause in-person church attendance to drop.  That’s a concern many pastors share, so I plan on writing another post after interviewing clients about their experience.

 

Finally, it looks like it’s time for pastors to seriously look at the Internet Church experience as a separate campus and not just as a live streaming experience.  There’s a group of people who “attend” church online and that group is larger than just the people who are our sick or on vacation or have an explicit reason for not driving to church in person.

 

When given a choice, the people who wanted to attend in person did and others participated online. If we’re treating this group as a separate campus, then it makes sense to get to know these people, keep track of attendance and find better ways to serve them.  Serving them better will increase giving in the long run.

 

Those were my thoughts after looking at the numbers from the four weeks around Easter.  What do you think?  Why do you think people chose to attend online instead of in person?   Does this small research prove anything?

2 responses to “Easter Internet Church Attendance – Is there anything to learn from the numbers?”

  1. Mark Collier says:

    I really dig stuff like this! I read it through once to get the gist and am reading it through again to give you my thoughts on your questions. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  2. Jeff Hook says:

    Great original content! True value to your readers! Good work!

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