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What Are Guests Looking For When They Watch An Online Church Service?

By Jeff Reed

Woman in her home watching church livestream

Lifeway has released some fascinating stats regarding visitors and online church services in recent months. One of the most interesting stats to me is that potential guests will watch online church services up to six times before they come to the physical building for that first visit—six times!

Why are potential visitors watching so many online church services before visiting the building?

This begs a couple of questions. First, why are potential visitors watching so many online church services before they come to the building? The answer comes down to trust. Today, trust is earned slowly. Potential visitors will be scouring your website, looking at online reviews, and watching online church services to learn more about your church.

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Historically, trust was earned in physical space. People would come to your physical space without awareness of who you were, and trust could be earned slowly in the building. In today’s culture, people are doing more research digitally. They’ll look online for new products or explore new restaurants or vacation spots. Why would looking for a new church be any different? Trust is earned before they make it to your building.

Potential visitor’s engagement with you online is focused on one thing: trust. Can they trust you and your organization? Realize in many (if not most) situations at this point, potential visitors have some level of church hurt from the past or are disenfranchised towards organized religion (or God overall). The fact that potential visitors are willing to engage digitally is a huge win, and we, as pastors and leaders of the church, should lean into connecting and engaging with these visitors digitally.

But what are potential visitors looking for when they watch our online services? In Part Three of Resi’s The Digitally Resilient Church, Greg Atkinson provided some key points visitors will consider when watching online services.

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What are potential visitors looking for when they watch your online church services?

  1. Worship – This should be obvious, but visitors want to see your church’s musical worship style. Musically, can they connect with what your church is offering? If you are producing musical worship online, you should have a standard of excellence. Things like quality sound mixed for online audiences and multiple camera angles allow for dynamic worship. Can potential visitors experience God-moments in your worship online? These are just some things visitors look for as they watch your online worship. Note: if your church cannot produce quality musical worship online, there’s nothing wrong with just doing your sermon and no musical worship. Low-quality worship online does more harm than good.
  2. Preaching—Visitors will analyze the communication style of your teacher or teaching team. Can they relate or connect with the message or illustrations? In addition, communicators must introduce themselves to the physical (and online) audience. Assume the viewer has no reference or understanding of who the communicator is. The potential visitor wants to feel welcome and find warmth in the message. Heads up: In a later blog post at Resi, we will cover in great detail how to communicate with an online audience.
  3. Representation—Ethnically and culturally, do the potential visitors see reflections of themselves on the stage team? Are they represented in the teaching team? Or onstage during worship or in announcements? Even showing tasteful audience shots can help represent who your people are within the church at times. As a tip, if your stage team doesn’t fully represent who your church is, that will hurt your physical (and online) gatherings.
  1. Good Design/User Friendly/Stream Quality – Your physical church service can be all these things, but if your online broadcast doesn’t represent quality, potential visitors will not see it. Without quality, you are missing the opportunity to connect with potential visitors. Using Resi’s best-in-class technology for online streaming makes sure your service is accessible and stable online. Visitors will not be patient enough to stick around if your video signal buffers or drops frames. Even things like a user-friendly web design will go a long way in getting visitors to engage long enough to build trust. Keep in mind that the stability of the broadcast is essential for your church to connect with potential visitors online.
  2. Authenticity – A buzzword in digital, is your church authentic? Is your church hospitable in its online environments? Chat hosts are a great way to show authenticity via engagement. Still, even things like your communicator, worship leader, and stage team engaging the online audience by talking to them via the camera can go a long way towards authenticity and trust with the online viewer. Ignoring the online viewer in your physical church service will slow down building authenticity/trust.
  1. Relevance – In simplest terms, the potential visitor is looking to relate to your church. If they can relate to your communicator and/or stage team, they will build trust much quicker. Are you relatable? Approachable? Do your sermons connect with an online audience? Your communicator and stage team are often accessible physically in church lobbies after services. Is your church that relatable digitally? Observation: Your church does not have to be “hip” to be relevant unless you want to connect with the hip crowd. The question before the question is, “Who do you want to connect with?” and then, “How can we be relevant/relate to them?”
  2. Easy Next Steps – After watching the church service online, is there clarity on what the next step is? Is there a simple way to get people to connect with your church (remember QR Click)? Clarity and simplicity will get potential visitors to engage, which leads us to…

How do we best connect with potential visitors once we recognize what they are looking for?

As you’re seeing, your online church services are essential for potential visitors to establish trust with your church. Beyond what these potential visitors are looking for from us, we must figure out how to best connect with them. An essential part of building trust with visitors is engaging with them. What does it look like to dialogue, to build a relationship with potential visitors online?

First, your online church stream should intentionally provide opportunities to connect and collect information on people. Collecting information through a worship service may sound icky, but the opportunity to connect potential visitors to worship is worth it. Fortunately, Resi has an incredible way to seamlessly and subtly connect with potential visitors in your online service.

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Typically, the majority of online church service viewing comes from mobile devices. It’s great to connect with people via these smart devices in our pockets, but engaging… getting information from people, is difficult from people watching online. Enter Resi’s “QRclick.

Resi’s QRclick enables any QR Code on the video screen through the Resi player to be automatically turned into a clickable link. So, putting a graphic with a QR code on your feed now becomes an easy way to get your viewers to access an online form, or a digital community where your volunteers or pastors can engage further.

Gathering information on potential visitors is just the first step! Your church should develop an engagement process where you are reaching out to build a relationship, digitally, in hopes that you will help people come to the building sooner than later! Using emails, text messages, direct messages, and phone calls, churches can develop (and in some cases automate) an engagement process to get information in front of potential visitors in hopes of building trust.

Above all, in your online church services and follow-up, it’s important to remember that your church needs to be authentically you.

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Jeff Reed

In 2018, Jeff stepped out of a 15-year church staffing career in production, creative, and communication to start THECHURCH.DIGITAL, a non-profit designed to help churches find their purpose through digital discipleship, mobilizing people on digital mission, and planting multiplying digital churches. He lives in Miami with his wife and two kids.

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