Today, hundreds (probably thousands) of churches today are livestreaming their Sunday services. But in spite of those numbers, there’s still a significant number of pastors worried it will give their members a reason to stay home instead of show up at church. I’ve searched for empirical data on live streaming and its impact on church attendance, and I can’t find any (if you know any studies, please let us know.) But at our media consulting company, Cooke Pictures, we’ve helped numerous churches livestream their services and in every case, it’s been a positive experience. As I’ve shown in other posts, the benefits easily overcome any concern from our pastors.
“We have lots of data on different aspects of our online services, but I’m not sure what data we’d need to prove people would or wouldn’t come otherwise. Our physical campus attendance has continued to grow by double digits and we’ve had church online right on top of our weekend service times for more than 11 years. We do have people that come to those online services that normally attend physically, but it’s hard to prove if they would have otherwise come. In some cases attending the online service may have replaced just skipping altogether. The good thing is that online can keep people connected that would otherwise drop off.”
Then Bobby hit the nail on the head:
“It is definitely true that availability of content online does create opportunities for people to choose not to come physically if they are only coming to get content. But our church environments should be focused on community and experiential elements and not simply content delivery. Podcasts, Spotify, LiveStreams and more are everywhere and choosing to not have your church online won’t stop your congregation from listening to another popular pastor. They just won’t be listening or watching you. If you create remarkable experiences and opportunities to connect with others in your buildings, Spotify and podcasts won’t be able to deliver on that.”
Then he made a great point that this is just another in a long line of “concerns” for church leaders:
“I’m not a theologian or historian, but it seems like the Church has a history of being concerned how access to new technology and platforms will affect church attendance. Remember there was a time when Bibles couldn’t be printed in English, then they weren’t allowed outside of the Church, then one major denomination wanted to ban bicycle use on Sundays in the 1890s because it was thought to distract people from coming to church. I remember when tape ministry was only available to the “shut-ins.” The good news for pastors that are concerned is that they are not alone in worrying…that’s been going on for hundreds of years.”
Bobby’s exactly right, much of my Ph.D. studies were focused on the struggle pastors and church leaders have experienced throughout the history of technology. After all, many church leaders were among those who initially criticized the printing press! Working with churches for a living, I completely understand the hesitation, but perhaps if we can look back at our history, and see that all those concerns never amounted to much, then we could look forward with a greater vision for changing the world.