NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)—Social media gets a bad rap most of the time as the stage for much of the division in our society. As ingrained as social media has become in many of our lives, I hear more people complain about its negative effects than praising it for any benefit it may provide.

But during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is safe to say pastors and churches are more grateful for social media than they have ever been. Countless churches are using platforms like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to deliver Sunday morning services, stay connected with their members, and provide other helpful ministry resources for a body of Christ that is dispersed and lonely.

But this also raises a question for pastors: “How do I calculate church attendance?” “Video views” are not a good measure of church attendance. “People reached” is even less accurate than video views when it comes to church attendance.

So what do we do?

First, let’s define some terms. On YouTube, one “video view” means that someone has: 1) clicked play on your video and 2) has watched for 30 seconds. On Facebook, one “video view” means that someone watched a video (that could have started automatically) for just three seconds. From my observation, most churches are using Facebook for sermons, not YouTube, so let’s focus on Facebook.

If your Sunday sermon has 3,000 views on Facebook, that does not mean 3,000 people “came to church.” It simply means that your video played for three seconds 3,000 times.

If Facebook says your Sunday service reached 8,000 people, that just means it appeared in 8,000 timelines. It doesn’t mean 8,000 people watched your sermon, and it definitely doesn’t mean 8,000 people came to church. It just means 8,000 people had the opportunity to scroll past your video, of which a smaller group may have stopped to watch.

So then, how can we calculate the number of people who consumed the Sunday service video in its entirety, like they were sitting in church on Sunday morning? You need three numbers: 1) the total watch time of your Sunday service (available on Facebook’s video stats), 2) the length of your video, and 3) the average number of people per household in your church or state. The following calculation isn’t perfect, but it is probably about as accurate as we can get right now.

Here is the equation we will use:

Total Watch Time / Length of Video x Average Size of Household in Your State (or a number between 2-2.5) = Approximate Church Attendance via Facebook Video.

How does that equation actually work? Let’s work through an example.

On Facebook, you can find the “total watch time” of any video you post—Google how to do it if you don’t know how. Let’s say the “total watch time” of your Sunday service was 6,400 minutes. That means an unknown number of people watched your video for a total of 6,400 minutes, which will be the first number in the equation above.

Then, let’s say your Sunday service was 60 minutes long—that’s the second number in your equation. Now, divide 6,400 minutes by 60 minutes, and you’ll get about 107.

What does that number mean? It means that, as an approximation, about 107 “households,” for lack of a better term, watched your video in its entirety. That doesn’t mean 107 people attended church, because multiple people in a family could have watched via one screen. So, 6,400 total minutes viewed divided by 60 minutes in length gives us approximately 107 households or screens “attended” a service in its entirety. But in order to get a more precise number for church attendance, you have to take into account multiple people in a household, like a family.

This is where the math starts to get sticky. If you happen to know the average size of a household in your church, you want to use that number next. But most churches probably don’t calculate the average household size for their church, which is understandable.

I would advise you to be conservative and use a number between 2 and 2.5 for the average household size of your church, since as the average household size for the United States in 2019 was 2.52. For an even more accurate approximation, you can visit this website to find the average household size for your state. I live in Tennessee, so my church would use 2.53 as the household multiplier. Now that we have all of the variables, let’s review our equation:

6,400 total minutes viewed / 60 minutes in length x 2.53 average household size = about 270 church attendees.

This equation isn’t perfect, but it is probably about as accurate as you’re going to get as you try to measure church attendance via Facebook. It is certainly more accurate than counting “views” or “reach” as attendees.

If Christians and church leaders are going to be people of integrity, as we are called to be, we must avoid the temptation to celebrate masses of people “hearing the Gospel” who aren’t doing anything but scrolling past a video of a church service.

The tools we have used to adapt to doing ministry amid isolation are wonderful, and they will change how many churches do ministry even once we’re all able to gather together again. Let’s be sure to understand these tools and interpret their statistics with integrity.