Now that we have settled into a “normal” routine from the COVID-19 quarantine, many churches have been forced into the virtual church realm while some have been offering online church options for some time. Given the COVID-19 crisis, churches have seen historic online church attendance. I can imagine the chat during the post-Easter online staff meeting. “Easter weekend online audience was huge, wow!” “The biggest weekend we have ever had.” Over the last week, I have heard churches who normally have 280 people attending their weekend services now have an online “audience” of 750 people.
A large online church audience can be intoxicating. I understand how easy it is to get drunk on the numbers.
Having served as the executive pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle from 2011 to 2014, we hosted an average of 300,000 podcasters per week. That weekly online audience was 20 times the number of attendees in all the weekly services at our multisite campuses. At Mars Hill, we kept our eyes on the numbers — the numbers of people in seats Sunday and the numbers online via the podcast. And over time, the focus of the church shifted. We poured more energy into reaching the larger number, the online audience, through slick production. We produced resources (books, blogs, worship albums) to serve the online audience better. And in the end, we took our eyes off the folks that mattered most, our members in physical services — the people who did life together, who were in community groups.