Whether your church was leveraging digital technology prior to the coronavirus crisis or this season of lockdown has opened up a whole new world of online discipleship, you’re probably looking to get the most out of online video.
At Connexus Church, where I serve, we’re constantly evaluating our digital ministry platform, asking how we can better serve our long-time members, as well as spiritual seekers who are finding us for the first time.
I want to share a bit of what we’ve learned and tell you why I believe YouTube is the right fit for our ministry, and probably yours too. So, here are three strategies to help you get the most out of YouTube:
1) Use the Data YouTube Provides
One of the blessings of conducting online services is that we now have data on almost every aspect of ministry—something we simply didn’t have before. We can see how people are interacting with our services in real time and after the fact.
When we were first starting out, we wanted to measure engagement. We quickly realized that the locked down video player on our church’s website wasn’t building momentum for us. So we took a look at two of our primary social video platforms, Facebook and YouTube.
We discovered very quickly that engagement on Facebook, even though it “felt” better,, our average watch time was less than two minutes, whereas on YouTube, it was closer to twenty minutes.
You may be wondering, Why is that? It’s because Facebook is designed to get people to keep scrolling, to engage more and more content from many different sources. YouTube, on the other hand, is built to get people watching video content for longer periods of time. So, for our purposes, YouTube is a better fit, since our goal for our online services is longer and deeper engagement with our content.
On Youtube, your average watch time was somewhere between eighteen and twenty-two minutes. To cooperate with that we made the decision to shorten our sermons so they land somewhere between twenty and twenty-five minutes.
Even if someone doesn’t stay for the whole service, they’re picking up a larger percentage of the message, and that’s a win.
For the same reason, we cut down the fifteen minute worship set before the start of the sermon. We found that people are mainly tuning in to hear the message, so we’ve trimmed down the music considerably and moved the sermon up front. It’s all about crafting our content based on the data.
2) Think Like a YouTube Viewer
Online video content has to be more than just a digital version of our church’s on-site service. People don’t consume content the same way on YouTube the way they might in person. So, to make the most of the platform, we try to think like our viewers.
When people are viewing content online, what does a “native” experience look like online?
Here’s what I mean:
On YouTube, people have a million choices of what to watch. When they join you, you’ll want to tell them right away why they’ll want to watch until the end. Let them know what the message is about and why they should keep watching. What question will it answer? What can they expect to get out of it? Why should they care?
Give your video a title that communicates these things so people aren’t left wondering. They’ll stay till the end if they know you’re going to answer a question that’s important to them.
Make the most of your stream “up time” by always having someone on camera.
One of the things we’ve done since the COVID-19 pandemic began is to start our livestream ten minutes early. Our hosts welcome viewers, tell them what they can expect during the service, give shout-outs to people joining the stream, and invite people to a deeper level of engagement. If you want to see more people comment on your videos, let them know you see them. Engage your online audience in real time.
After the livestream is over, we edit our service down into multiple components (sermon, songs) to be posted separately. It’s one thing to join a church service live on Sunday morning, but after that, most people are looking solely for the message. But the songs are posted separate videos, and people are used to consuming that kind of content in shorter segments anyway.
When a church first starts posting content to YouTube, it can be daunting. There are so many videos, so many churches, and it can be hard to stand out and reach people beyond your core audience.
Just remember to keep at it, keep learning, and keep trying new things. Point people to your YouTube channel, and ask them to subscribe. It takes time to increase your reach. In the meantime,, and remember that YouTube will suggest your video along with several others, so make it stand out. Pick a great thumbnail image, and choose a title that will draw in the people you’re hoping to reach.
3) Use YouTube’s Algorithms and Metrics to Your Advantage
One of the things I love best about YouTube is the user dashboard. You can see the chat rate, the number of people clicking play on your video, and the number of concurrent viewers. You can see at what point in the video YouTube started suggesting your content, and where viewers fall off..
We try new things—what we say on camera, the order of the service, our calls to action—and we watch these metrics to see what impact we’re having. It keeps us learning as we go.
Oh—and here’s a tip that will help you use YouTube’s algorithms to your advantage: We actually use one livestream video for all our morning services. It may be four hours long with one service ending and another one beginning a few minutes later, but it makes YouTube’s algorithms say, Oh, there are more people tuning in. And they’re watching for like a long time. Maybe I should show this to more people. That gives us a boost and helps us build momentum on the platform.
But it’s not really about clicks; it’s about reaching the lost and discipling Jesus followers. And YouTube is helping us do both. Before we started putting our efforts into our YouTube channel, following the data, and planning accordingly, we were seeing around 200 views per week. Since we made the change, it’s grown to 4,500 views per week. We’re a church of about 1,500 people, so I have no doubt YouTube is helping us reach people we never would have before.