Sermon Audio on the Church Website

We’ve been using a little digital recorder in the pulpit to record the pastor’s sermons and posting them on our church website. And so far, so good.olympus_ws400s

We bought the Olympus WS-400s at Office Max for about $60. It has a built in microphone, two recording quality settings, and 1 gb memory for up to 170 hrs of recording time. This unit is VERY small, -, it’s about 4″ by 1″ -or about half the size of a cellphone. It is very easy to use. Even has a built-in retractable USB plug so you can plug it right into your computer.

It records in the WMA  format (Windows Media Audio). On the high quality setting, a 15 minute sermon is just a 3 mb file. The tiny built-in microphone does a surprisingly good job of picking up the pastor’s voice. He lays it on the lecturn about 20 inches away from his mouth. He simply press the record button just before he starts to speak. The recording playback quality is good enough for the web. (The unit’s own playback quality is small and tinny on its own micro speakers, as to be expected.)

To post the file at a website, you plug the recorder into your computer, open up a simple FTP (file transfer) program, and upload it to your website. Then, I take note of the file’s web address and paste that address in a file on our webpage. We use WordPress to create our church site, so it’s all easy.

Now the question is, IS ANYBODY LISTENING?

Two months ago, the pastor asked for my help saying, “The Consistory wants to start recording the sermons and put them on the church website.”  Our pastor doesn’t write out his sermons, so there is no text to post.

I agreed to help, saying, “Sure, we can do that, but let’s also agree to revisit this decision based on ACTUAL USAGE STATISTICS. I’m willing to take the time to upload the files and create the links,  but only if people actually listen to them.”  “Fair enough,” was his reponse.

Then I told him this story:

Fresh out of seminary and serving as the Assoc Pastor in a NY church, I was in charge of making sure the services got recorded to cassettes and distributed to the old folks. One Sunday afternoon while delivering communion in a nursing home, I saw a STACK of service/sermon cassetttes on a bedside table.

“Quite a collection!” I said. “Do you enjoy them?”

“NO” came the reply, “I don’t ever listen to them, too much fuss.”

 “Oh, well would you like me to have the Deacon stop bringing them?”

“No” replied the senior, “maybe I’ll start listening to them.”

Somehow I doubt she ever did.  She was being honest and polite. I asked several other older members if they listened to the cassettes, and was met with a variety of excuses.  “My hands hurt too much to press the buttons.”  “I’m all thumbs.”  “I don’t hear so well. ”   But.. I decided that giving the Deacon a REASON to make that visit …having a cassette in hand, was reason enough to continue the tape ministry.

But posting them on a church website is DIFFERENT than the old cassette ministry.  These were likely going to be sermons for “the rest of the congregation” to hear, if they wanted to hear them. Our church has a fair number of snowbirds, so maybe the stats will go up during the off season as the snowbirds try to stay in touch. And maybe if someone was sick, or enjoyed the sermon and wanted to hear it a second time. Or maybe they wanted to hear a certain quote or reference. Putting sermons on the church website seems to me to be QUITE different than that old cassette ministry. So I’m intrigued to see if we get many “hits” on those files.

But I’m still going in cautiously. Some ideas, EVEN GOOD IDEAS, are often not worth the extra effort. They can be “make work.”  Or, “feel good” efforts that have little impact or importance.  And here I’m speaking to the church web techies:  they can ask you to do lots of little things like this, …and after a while you’re doing so many that it has turned into quite the project. So even with “good ideas” you need to TEST FOR RESULTS.

And that’s one of the cool things about websites, you CAN ACTUALLY MEASURE whether all the effort is worth it.  Even a modest website has controls you can set that can generate statistics of how many time the sermon audio files have been accessed. We’re using WordPress for our church website, and the stats are right on the “Dashboard” …the control panel.  We’ll use those stats to determine IF and HOW MANY sermons should be posted in the future.

But…there’s one BIG problem with Web Stats:
Typical web stats will only show us how many times the audio file was “clicked for download.” They can’t tell us if the sermon was entirely listened to.

The Dec 20 2009 sermon had 24 “clicks” over a three week period. Our congregation has about 140 people in it. Some of those clicks may be searchbots, or searchers looking for “Advent Sermons” as their keyword. But the remainder, let’s say 12, is not an insignificant number.

 So here’s what I’m going to do….
I’m going to EDIT IN a special message half way through several of the next sermons I post. It will say, “We’re trying to figure out if anyone actually LISTENS to these sermons, If you hear this message, call my cell phone now, and I will give you a free gift.”   (It will be a copy of a favorite religious book).


I did put this message in several sermons, and NOBODY ever reported hearing my message in the middle of the pastor’s sermons. For some time, I concluded that “people weren’t listening to them”, that is until a visitor told me they had clicked one of the sermons on the website to “get a sense of what the preacher sounded like”.  So maybe the point is that “Sermon Audios are Samples”.

I shared this finding with a friend from a big popular northern church that had a well known preacher. She said that HIS sermons would often downloaded, especially by his students from his preaching class

Check out my software!

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6 Responses to Sermon Audio on the Church Website

  1. Lin Pearson says:

    Great idea! I guess you’d have to vary the place you put the “secret message” every week. I can see them fast forwarding to the 12 minute mark if it was always there!!!

  2. Daniel says:

    Great article. I like the creative idea on trying to find out how many people have listened to the sermon. Hopefully, you’ll get some feedback!

  3. Kent says:

    I like your idea of a secret message as well. Page clicks alone are not a very accurate measurement.

    One could use log files to see if downloads were completed indicating that someone at least downloaded a whole audio file.

    Another thing is we could look at the length people are on a page before they navigate away. This would indicate that they were on the page for quite some time and likely listened to some or all of a podcast.

  4. Kent says:

    We use the Olympus WS-310M with a lapel. These work really well for us as the speaker / pastor can move about. Always a clear recording and the USB makes it easy to offload.

  5. Bonnie says:

    Great post, Neil. I also like the idea about the message and gift. My husband is a former pastor and church planter. Your low-cost recommendation would have been great for a couple of our church starts.

    I’ve discovered people are using church websites, specifically the online audio/video, to look for a church. If I just moved into this area, that’s exactly what I would do. I want to know if the pastor preaches sermons that are biblically based. And one of my criteria has always been the choir – if they look like they would rather be in a dentist’s chair, I will not return to that church.

    Would I make the decision based on this alone? No. But we would have found our current church home much sooner.

    For churches with the resources, I recommend posting some video, even if you can’t do it every week.

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