Written by Bill Whitt
July 2, 2024

To Livestream Or Not To Livestream

Does offering a worship livestream siphon people off from participating in-person? Here are five poll results about online ministry.

Does offering a worship livestream siphon people off from participating in-person? New data by the Pew Research Center says that is generally not something to worry about. Most people are not substituting online worship for in-person worship.

  • The Pew Research Center’s poll provides us with a treasure trove of data that can help us think wisely about online ministry. Below are five important insights for those working in the field of church renewal.
Five Poll Results About Online Ministry
Result 1. Attendance is Low Across the board
  • The poll asked respondents if they had attended church during the past month. The survey found that 60 percent of people neither attended online nor in-person in the previous month, while 13 percent attended both online and in-person. Some attended in-person only (16 percent), and some attended online only (12 percent).
  • Even among those who describe themselves as Protestants, only 39 percent reported having attended a worship service online or in-person in the past month.
Result 2. In-person attenders also attend online
  • One might expect in-person attendance to decrease as online attendance increases, but that is not what the survey shows. As the frequency of church attendance rises, so does the person’s online participation.
  • Livestreams are not taking people away from in-person church attendance. Data analyst Ryan Burge interprets the data as showing that in-person worship is a catalyst for online participation. However, because the data is correlational and not causational, I would posit that the opposite interpretation is equally possible — those who participate online become more engaged into the life of the church in-person.
Result 3. The Majority prefer in-person worship
  • For those who engage in both online and in-person worship, a majority prefer in-person gatherings. While online options are convenient, they are not ideal.
  • This is true across all age groups, but the preference for in-person worship is the strongest in older people. Two-thirds of those between 18- and 29-years-old prefer in-person worship, while 86 percent of those over age 65 prefer in-person worship.
Result 4. Older people are most likely to worship online exclusively
  • Even as older people prefer in-person worship, they are simultaneously the ones who are likeliest to participate in worship almost entirely online.
  • Retirees may be strongly reliant on the livestream because of their frequent travels and high level of mobility or conversely because they are highly immobile due to age or illness.
Result 5. The livestream is useful in several specific ways
  • In sum, very few Americans have decided to substitute online participation for in-person participation. Those who do, likely do it out of necessity rather than preference. We should have little concern about a robust online ministry cannibalizing our in-person ministry.
  • Worship livestreams and other online ministries are still valuable in at least three ways: They should be viewed as the church’s new front door. They are additional content for highly engaged people within the church. And they are a way for older members to retain their connection to the church family.

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