One of the most difficult aspects of digital communication is getting the intended audience to pay attention. Because many people may never open an email, click a link or watch to the end of a polished video, it is essential to be open to trying multiple communication methods.
One of the most important tools in a digital communicator’s toolbox is SMS (aka text messaging).
Over 90% of people read a text message within 3 minutes. Meanwhile, the average open rate for an email from a religious organization is 27%. A comparison of these stats translates into a clear directive: Churches need to try text messaging to communicate with people.
Here are four methods, both free and paid, to utilize text messaging in your congregation.
1. Consider a manual, relationally focused text tree
Software exists to automate the sending of texts, but consider the power of true community before selecting that option. Take a moment to think through whether a more relational approach is a better fit for your church family. It also may help you to market on a limited budget.
A text tree utilizes volunteers to send text messages to pre-determined groups of people.
Many phone carriers limit users to 10 recipients in a group text. With this in mind, create a text tree by dividing your membership into groups of 10. Assign each group to one of your texting ministry volunteers. By communicating through 10 volunteers, you can reach 110 people. If those 10 volunteers agree to manage two text groups each, your message can reach 210 people.
The real advantage of a text tree is that people are communicating with each other rather than an app. Individuals can have conversations, respond with questions and care for each other. If texts arrive at a moment when someone needs help, they can reply with a prayer request. The text minister can respond or contact church staff to assist as appropriate.
2. Check your database program
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Because of the power of text messaging, most church database software has some amount of texting baked into the system; however, you need to be careful. When you look into your database software, it is essential to find out exactly how it is sending text messaging.
Some of the older database systems use text over email. That protocol assigns an email address to every phone number. For example, if you use AT&T, your text over email address is [your phone number]@txt.att.net. This may sound like a great solution, but it will most likely fail. These options require knowing the cellphone service provider of every person you seek to contact. What’s more, texts will go undelivered if they later change providers and don’t notify you of that change.
The easiest question to ask a database software company: “Does your text messaging require us to know the cell service provider of each person?” If yes, move on to another option.
3. Take advantage of the free (and basic) Remind.com
If you have had a child in school recently, you have most likely encountered text message reminders. That is often done through Remind.com.
This tool allows people to sign up to receive text messages by texting a code to a specific number. That code will put them in a “class” at your church. Once they are in the system, you will be able to send texts to that group. For instance, you can send a message to alert them of an upcoming Bible study or tell parents the latest arrival time for the youth camp bus.
This option allows you to text groups of people for free. Recipients can sign up and remove themselves from the list with a simple text message. If that’s what you need, Remind.com is the right solution for you.
4. Use a paid service such as Text in Church
What do you get when you pay for texting? A whole lot, actually.
Platforms such as Text in Church will allow you to set up an automated guest follow-up. Let’s use visitor outreach as an example. It enables you to create digital connect cards and send automatic follow-up texts to check in. This can make it easier to express your concern with the experience of a new visitor.
These tools also can integrate with several other services, such as Mailchimp, Planning Center, etc. to keep you from inputting the same information in multiple places. The real power of these platforms is in the integrations and automations that make your communication process streamlined and easy to manage.
Whether you decide to pay for a fully integrated solution or take a more relational approach, texting can take your communication to another level. It can empower you to reach people quickly and without wondering whether most of them have seen your message.
Jeremy Steele is the associate pastor at Los Altos UMC in Los Altos, California, as well as a writer and speaker. You can find a list of all his books, articles and resources for churches, including his most recent book All the Best Questions, at his website: JeremyWords.com.