Churches the world over are facing a crisis of membership.
According to a 2015 Pew Study, the average number of Americans attending a church service at least once a week dropped 4% to 36% between 2007 and 2014, while the number of people attending "seldom or never" increased by nearly 5% (30%) in the same period. Similarly, in a 2018 study, Gallup highlighted that the average number of Catholics attending a church event once a week is down to 39%—a 6% drop over the previous period.
The majority of those choosing to skip out on their regular church services are members of younger generations, with the average age of a typical church-goer falling around 69 years. Not all churches are falling victim to lower attendance; on average Protestants are continually reporting steady attendance, though fewer and fewer Americans are actually identifying as Protestant. Ultimately, total numbers for Protestants are in decline. Churches that are bucking the trend of falling church attendance are those reaching out through social media, apps, technology, and live streaming.
But, it makes intuitive sense, doesn't it?
If you want to reach a younger audience, you must speak to them in a language they understand. For today's youth, that means technology. They live in a world of Snapchat, Vine, Twitter, and YouTube. If this is how Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X are interacting with each other, the traditional ways of their parents' and grandparents' churches simply won't speak to them.
It's time for churches to make a change. Not in message, but how that message is delivered.
Finding a place for new technology in your church
A lot of the issues facing churches today are less about the actual problems being fought and more about how they're approached. For example, many churches are having difficulty retaining their young members. In fact, a Gallup study showed that membership among the 21- to 29-year-old demographic is down 4% from 40% in 2007. A Pew study, highlights that Millennials are distancing themselves from the rigidity of organized religion, while nearly half of believers not attending church regularly claim preferring to worship individually, according to separate Gallup research.
Taken together, the research suggests that instead of focusing on adhering strictly to the traditional in-person-only format, churches should focus on attracting new members and reaching existing members in new ways. By centering church efforts on attracting and engaging with the community in new ways, you show them that a good, moral message can still be engaging, fun, and meaningful.
One way to do this is to interact with this audience on social media, through live video, GIFs, and Snaps that speak to their hearts and digital desires simultaneously. Likewise, many successful churches are adopting new tools for worship including bible study apps for smart devices. These approaches support the changing worship style of young generations while ensuring that the community built around the congregation is strengthened.
How live streaming church services benefit your congregation
What is live streaming?
Live streaming is an interactive broadcast of video on one or multiple, various online social platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. Live streaming incorporates live commenting and chatting to help spur engagement. For several years now, video content online has been taking over as the most engaging and popular on the internet.
Because more than 44% of Americans not attending church list preferring to worship on their own as the primary reason they no longer visit services, churches can use live streaming to open their programming up to those who have chosen to forgo more traditional church events. Live streaming allows your congregation to enjoy a more casual atmosphere and experience a greater level of openness. An article in the Kansa City Star addressed just how some churches are reaching out successfully to younger generations:
By updating long-considered immovable church more—dress codes and preaching styles, attitudes toward the secular, a willingness to discuss the taboo—and embracing modern music and technology (AD3 preaches not from a Bible but from his iPad), these churches brim with youthful vivacity.
Live streaming is a simple change churches can make in order to free younger people from the rigid rituals and judgement of more traditional churches.
Why stream live church service?
Why use live video on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter?
Facebook's umbrella of social tools and YouTube are far and away the world's most popular social networks. Of the top 6 social apps by user count and engagement, Facebook products fill 3 of the highest slots. YouTube comes in second only to Facebook's main platform itself.
Both Facebook and YouTube, as well as a number of other popular networks like Twitter, have live video options and adoption of this technology is impressive. The number of Facebook Live videos from 2016 to 2017 increased 4x, while some experimenting from AgoraPulse show that engagement measured in watch time, comments, reactions, and shares is all significantly higher for Facebook Live video than standard uploaded video. How significantly? On average, live streamed video on Facebook shows 2x more reactions, 13.9x more comments, and 4.3x more shares.
That's a lot of community engagement.
Over 81% of the population has at least one social media account. If you want to reach your audience, whatever age they are, you must meet them where they are—online.
As more and more people seek new ways of building their spirituality, they are searching for connection all over the web. Consequently, there is a growing opportunity to reach your congregation and new members with live stream. Live video of church services, prayer groups, or bible studies can be streamed on numerous engaging social platforms simultaneously using tools like Restream. Believers can worship at home, on their commutes, in a cafe, or in the park.
Social media at its very foundation is meant to facilitate connection and communication. This fundamental function allows you to connect to members of the church and for them to connect easily with one another. Ed Stetzer at Christianity Today highlights, "[t]hrough Facebook and Twitter or through a church blog, I can easily communicate directly with the people in my congregation, throughout the day and week" and "[t]hrough social media, a new attendee can connect to other church members before he or she ever has a chance to meet at a church gathering or a small group." Because it is a powerful tool to connect community, church leaders who are serious about strengthening roots within the community should prioritize social media, content, and spreading their message through these channels.
With an effective live stream strategy, you can build a powerful presence online to spread your message, reach your congregation, and connect with other believers.