Digital ministry statistics provide helpful insights on trends within the American church.
Every quarter, The Unstuck Group compiles all the data collected using our Vital Signs Assessment tool to monitor trends in churches in the United States and around the world and releases it in a quarterly Unstuck Church Report.
Over the last 12 months, 194 churches completed the assessment to help us get a picture of where there is health and where churches appear to be getting stuck. For reference:
- The average in-person attendance of churches that participated was 506 people. These churches ranged in size from under 100 to over 7,500 people.
- These churches also saw over 2,000 views every week through their online services or messages.
- The churches that participated on average started their ministry in 1963. The oldest church that participated dates back to the early 1700s.
- Most of the churches are connected to a denomination, but about a third of the churches that participated indicated they were nondenominational churches.
The full report details a wide range of topics from church reach to church boards, to church finances. You can access the full report here, but today we’ll be focusing on 3 key takeaways that speak to online ministry and digital discipleship.
3 New Digital Ministry Stats To Direct Your Strategy
1. Church Service Attendance: Online vs. In-Person
While the average in-person attendance over the previous 12 months dropped by 34%, we found that this decline in attendance continues to be offset by the increase in online service views.
The average number of online service views (one minute or more) per week has more than tripled from the year before. Churches reported an average of 2,173 service views per week compared to 712 service views per week the year before.The average number of online church service views per week has more than tripled from the year prior. Have you invested in developing a digital ministry strategy? Click To Tweet
2. Digital Engagement Beyond Sunday
Churches are increasing their use of email to stay connected with their congregations. The number of people currently opted in to receive email communications (i.e., newsletters, content email lists, etc.) increased by 26% from the previous year.
Why is this an important metric? Because signing up for an email list can often be the first step for people getting connected to your church. That means it’s one tangible way your church can begin to track new people.
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3. Digital Church Staffing
Staffing levels remain high compared to attendance declines. The average church employs one full-time equivalent staff person for every 42 people in attendance. You may be thinking: are churches simply beginning to staff for digital roles?
Unfortunately, we don’t believe this is the case. We’ve seen very few churches intentionally add staff for digital ministry in recent months. Instead, it’s more common to see churches retaining staff that was hired for ministry in physical environments… even though attendance is lower. And we know from previous research that growing churches have 35% fewer staff positions than declining churches.
Next Steps for Defining Your Digital Ministry Strategy
In late September 2020, we conducted a survey to learn more about how churches are engaging digital ministry strategies. Many of the results were disheartening, but this one, in particular, stood out…
Only 21% of those surveyed agreed with this statement: “We have a well-defined digital ministry strategy to engage with people who are outside the church and outside the faith.”
In other words, 79% don’t.
We know that since that survey, many churches have made moves to advance their digital strategies. But many still feel that they’re missing the mark. There are typically three reasons for this:
- They’re throwing their services online and wondering why they don’t see results.
- They’ve tacked on “digital ministry” as another program and never stopped to think about the “who” or the “why” of what they’re doing.
- They view digital strategy as solely a means for communications and for promoting ministry, rather than a means of engaging ministry with people to help them take their next steps toward Jesus.
About 20 years ago, I served in a church that was in the middle of a building campaign, and the slogan for that particular building campaign was: “It’s not about buildings, it’s about people.” And I think we can pull that phrase into our modern times and say: “It’s not about websites and streaming technology and YouTube channels and social media and other digital platforms. It’s about people.”
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DIGITAL MINISTRY STRATEGIES
And the fact is most of us can’t design and construct buildings without experts involved. Instead, we design ministry strategies and then we hire the experts to help us design and construct buildings. And likewise, I don’t think most of us can design and build websites or streaming solutions. We need to stick to designing ministry strategies and then hire the experts to help us design and construct the digital solution.
So, if you want to make a real impact with your digital ministry, then it’s time to shift away from just putting your services online and to start thinking about how to really connect with people outside the church and outside the faith online.
Essentially, your digital strategies have to become embedded parts of your ministry strategy. It can’t be something separate. They have to be elemental, essential, components of how you do what you do to help people far from God meet him and take next steps in their relationship with Him.
As you continue to learn and invest in this ministry, you’ll need to revisit and change it, and try new things, and keep iterating with the things you learn — because it won’t be “just” your digital ministry strategy. It will just be your ministry strategy, period.
Next up, learn how to elevate your digital ministry with 5 Genius Tools For Your Online Church Experience.
If you’re ready to dig into defining your “who” and getting clarity around your what, where, and when in your digital ministry, check out this free comprehensive resource: Our Ultimate Guide to Digital Ministry Strategy.
What’s the biggest surprise you encountered as you developed your digital ministry strategy?