Refining Livestream Strategies For The Church

Pushpay’s State of Church Technology report delivered a wealth of information, but as the President of Resi Media, two statistics grabbed me in particular:

  • 93% of churches livestreamed service at some point during 2021, and,
  • 94% of those churches intend to continue streaming through 2022

The first number isn’t all that surprising. COVID certainly accelerated a culture change within the Church. Instead of needing to educate pastors and leaders as to why streaming was a valuable tool for ministry—as we’d been doing for the past several years—our team at Resi was racing to fill demand for this unique and powerful engagement tool.

Still, that transition was emotional for all of us. The inability to be near our friends, loved ones, and communities, was difficult—especially amongst our church families, whom we’re used to sharing in-person connection with on a regular basis. I know that pastors were hit especially hard by the shift. Instead of preaching to full pews and smiling faces, leaders were adapting to digital platforms, learning, and experimenting with revolutionary ways to build and maintain community.

Perhaps that’s why the second statistic wasn’t as surprising to me as some might think. The enthusiasm to continue streaming as COVID retreats must mean churches have embraced the idea that a hybrid model—combining in-person connection with digital tools—will be the future of their church. Moreso, I believe that the pandemic didn’t necessarily create the livestream trend, rather it was a catalyst to accelerate it. The fact that 94% of churches plan to continue livestreaming is further reinforcement that digital church was already a movement, and the pandemic merely brought it to the forefront.

A More Intentional Approach

When the pandemic hit, the number one streaming concern for churches was accessibility. Forced to connect in the era of social distancing, everyone was jumping at any means possible to stay engaged, which meant publishing video far and wide. Virtually every platform was hosting church content: Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, custom mobile apps, dedicated websites, and all the rest.

Today, as churches re-engage through in-person services while simultaneously maintaining digital convenience, many are looking for more intentional streaming strategies. That’s to say, in a rush to simply get out sermons, messages, and embracing new platforms to reach their members during the pandemic, churches didn’t have the opportunity to reflect on how they were affecting their congregant’s behavior. Now they have that bandwidth, and they’re rethinking everything.

Facebook is a great case study for streaming. Most members of any church probably already have an account—they’re comfortable with the service, and may even belong to church groups that use the platform’s features. Thus, many churches took advantage of Facebook’s video solutions during the past few years. But Facebook can also be extremely distracting: The average watchtime for videos on their platform is miniscule, because people are busy combing through their newsfeeds—only pausing on content momentarily, constantly jumping from one post to another.

Statistics prove this pattern. The average livestream video watchtime on Facebook is less than two minutes. But YouTube will reach 15 to 20 minutes, and an embedded video on a church website can easily average 35 to 40.

Don’t misunderstand: Every digital content platform can provide enormous benefits to ministry. The trick is understanding how your congregants interact and engage with those platforms, and how you can leverage those trends to funnel your members where you really want them.

For instance, hosting an hour-long sermon on Facebook probably isn’t efficient. But you could post a pre-recorded three-minute teaser clip of the sermon’s topic on Facebook, and end the video with an invitation to see the full sermon on your website. That way, you can drive way more engagement on Facebook, and in turn lead many more people to your service. Another tactic I’ve seen work is streaming to Facebook groups and creating little communities of engagement based on community groups or other connective tissue.

You could also consider going live on Instagram, just a few minutes before streaming Sunday service, and direct everyone to your custom app to join in for worship. The point is, deciding where to funnel your online community is step one; only after you’ve set that goal can you be strategic and intentional about getting them there.

Consider Creating Scarcity

Movie theater attendance has run roughly parallel to churches these past few years. Both sat empty after COVID struck, and both have seen a slow return to in-person attendance. Note that movies and churches alike transitioned to “at-home” services to stay afloat during the pandemic.

But you know who hasn’t had any trouble filling seats post-COVID? The NFL.

That’s an unfair comparison, of course, and the ease of packing football stadiums can be attributed to a host of factors. But one lesson I believe is applicable to churches is scarcity. Think of it this way: you only get about ten chances to see your favorite football team play at home each year. But how many showtimes are there a day for that new action movie? How accessible are videos of your Sunday service?

At Chase Oaks in Dallas, Texas, every piece of content is available 24/7. You can watch anywhere, anytime, flexible to your schedule—but their setup is very much like Netflix, requiring users to login with their personal information. Instead of letting viewers anonymously click into a Youtube post, this system gives leadership the ability to contact members via their email with church updates, or to encourage them to attend in-person services in the future.

Park Church in Colorado leverages scarcity in another way: They stream each service just once, at the exact same time every Sunday morning. It forces their members to create a habit of being available, and to stick around for the entire service because they won’t have the opportunity to see it again—just like a live sermon.

There’s no single correct strategy for streaming, because each church and its goals are unique, but creating a sense of scarcity can be a powerful tool for building engagement and community.

Looking Toward the Future with VR

If you accept that streaming will play a role in the future of the Church, a whole world of exciting opportunities opens up.

One of the most fascinating current tech trends is virtual reality. Development has raced forward at an astonishing pace — just a few years ago the hardware felt clunky, users complained of discomfort, the video didn’t look quite right and more. Virtually all those issues have since been addressed and are continuing to improve seemingly by the day. In fact, we recently hosted a Resi Equip session with Life.Church and explored how they’re using the Metaverse to spread their message to a much larger audience virtually.

For churches, VR can obviously be leveraged to create a more immersive viewing experience, but this technology can also supplement a sermon through features that make you feel like you’re really in the pew, chatting quietly with other congregants through augmented reality. Some churches are even experimenting with virtual kiosks, allowing members to give through their headsets.

As more powerful, immersive, and engaging tech becomes available, the best thing any church can do is stay up-to-date on the latest developments, and regularly reassess which tools will best help them reach their goals. Our Resi and Pushpay teams are delighted that we get to be at the forefront of technology innovation and love that we have an opportunity to work alongside the Church to deliver the tools you need to help streamline ministry management and maximize your community impact.