Using Captioning to Reach Your Full Audience

This article was our contribution to the Fall 2020 edition of ChurchLeaders MinistryTech magazine.

Technological advancements have made preaching the Gospel through new mediums easier than ever – and the limitations in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic has forced embracing these new technologies a necessity. A majority of the fastest-growing churches in the U.S. had already begun live-streaming their services as a way to grow and connect with their audience that may not be able to physically attend due to distance, age, or a disability. Now, it’s a scramble for everyone to get onboard with a solution.

But this new burden to adapt is not all that bad. So far, we are hearing a positive response from ministries that the newly implemented video streams of their services have not only provided an adequate solution for their congregation but has also gained exposure to more members of their community. This leads us to see a common trend among the churches that make Outreach’s 100 Fastest-Growing Churches in America list every year: online services.

The New Normal

Like nearly every institution in American life, places of worship have been hit hard by the novel coronavirus and subsequent social distancing measures – no longer able to physically gather as one; to collectively nod their heads when a verse speaks to them or sway together during songs of worship.

State-to-state the laws vary, but here in California places of worship have been asked to “discontinue indoor singing and chanting activities and limit indoor attendance to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower.” And it’s also encouraged to “consider practicing these activities through alternative methods (such as internet streaming).”

So amidst the uncertainty of how and when the regulations will change, religious leaders have turned to online platforms to practice their faith with community members. Since March of this year, BoxCast, the complete live video streaming solution popular among churches, experienced an 85% increase in active accounts and a 500% increase in viewing minutes compared to the same period last year. Even the modestly-sized church streaming platform saw an immediate increase in their subscriber base of 20% and their total viewership triple to 60,000 weekly viewers.

Rick Warren from Saddleback Church reports that in the last 23 weeks – since the church moved to online-only services – they have more than doubled their 45,000-weekly attendance. This is their greatest growth in the shortest amount of time in their 40-year history.

The silver lining here is that being forced to find an online solution has allowed the message to be more accessible than ever. And once the setup is in place to live-stream your services, keeping it as an option for your audience unable to attend in person even after all restrictions are lifted will be an invaluable resource for continued growth.

Hearing Loss and the Benefits of Captioning

As audiences grow, it is important to point out that approximately 20% of American adults (48 million!) aged 18 and over report some trouble hearing. Some of the audience may be sitting in silence; literally.

Captions are words displayed on a television, computer, mobile device, etc., providing the speech or sound portion of a program or video via text. Captions allow viewers to follow the dialogue and the action of a program simultaneously. Captions can also provide information about who is speaking or about sound effects that might be important to understanding the message.

Captions help comprehension and clarification of the dialogue – it’s not just with those with hearing loss. Reading along with captions can help other members of the congregation with concentration and engagement.

After surveying a small sample of churches using captioning, we’ve seen similar responses where they’ve started by adding captioning to one service a week to gauge the response. Most find encouraging numbers with engagement on that service and move to add captions to the remaining services and even start captioning their archived videos of past sermons.

So as your audience grows, consider being further accessible with captioning and ensure you’re reaching that additional 20%.