So, you're ready to level 2 your text strategy. Before diving in, remember these simple rules:
Usually creating a texting campaign is relegated to the advertising 'department' and would be used to sell a product. For you and the church, it will be used to promote your message and services to your members. To maximize engagement and impact, you want to use SMS technology effectively, keeping your members reading and responding to your messages.
To accomplish your goals, you should follow these simple steps to keep them tuned in to Jesus:
To help you get started with texting for churches, download this free guide.
Four reasons to include mobile giving as part of your church giving strategy:
So, HOW are they paying?
Lots are using their mobile phones. In recent years, payments via cell phones have increased from $30B to $545B (106% CAGR).
This amazing growth rate is predicted to continue with the younger generations for whom paying by phone is the norm.
To help you get started with texting for churches, download this free guide.
Texting is relatively new to churches but can be a powerful tool to help keep members informed, engaged, and nurtured. Here are the top three activities that can benefit from having a texting strategy.
Sending emergency updates, news updates and newsletters: One of the main reasons for using SMS messaging is to keep your members updated. Sending out emergency messages asking for prayers or help to members who have encountered hard times or medical emergencies is extremely important.
Promoting recorded sermons and special prayers: Sending messages with links to your website, containing newsletters, videos of important sermons, or other relevant information, helps your members to keep up with the church life when they are unable to attend.
Creating discussions on current events: Using social media is an excellent way to stimulate discussions among your members and to get ideas in terms of what they think in relation to specific topics or to source topics for use in future services. Text messages can also be used to help create or draw attention to these online discussion groups among members to help increase attendance, involvement, and to lift the spirituality of both current and new members.
Using surveys to evaluate member interest in topics: Creating surveys is fun and easy to do. You can craft messages that will elicit a useful response to any question. Multiple choice questions, true or false, and short answer are some of the ways in which you can craft a question. Your members can text back their answers to be automatically tabulated. For example, you can use text surveys in church to enable members to vote on an event option, or engage by answering a quick Bible knowledge question.
Gathering ministry ideas, recruiting volunteers, assessing community needs, and promoting special events: You can send out a text message with a number of different discussion ideas, asking your members to text back their thoughts on what interests them. Sending messages regarding the needs of your community or special events is a great way to keep members continually involved. It's also an efficient way to recruit volunteers for a ministry, invite people to events, as well as send important updates before, during, and after the event.
Encouraging meeting attendance and setting up meetings with members: Here is where churches can increase member and visitor attendance with event options such as Wednesday night Youth Services and special weekend events. Have a another event similar to the one your first-time guest attended? Fire off a text inviting him or her to “another one you might enjoy.” Current members can be encouraged to come out to special events or mid-week services. Texting platforms can also be leveraged to improve connection in small groups by providing each group with its own keyword code as well as a mobile form, enabling each small group leader to easily and quickly contact group members. Providing members with short or long code offers them easy and effective ways to reach out and contact you whenever and wherever they need to do so.
Collecting donations for church goals such as needy parishioners and special events: Many churches are using portals to collect donations for specific goals; for example: sending a church group to a conference, carrying out repairs to the church structure, etc. Text messages keep your members updated on where you are in regard to reaching your goals, and enables you to celebrate with them when you have reached or surpassed a goal. While in-service collections continue to fall by the wayside, online and mobile donations are on the rise. Collecting digital donations is simple: members send a message via a long (or short) code or are directed to a donation portal or mobile app.
To help you get started with texting for churches, download this free guide.
You've most likely hear A LOT about including text messaging as part of a church communications plan. Some of what you've heard is in favor of including texting and some is against.
It can seem a bit confusing, and as a result of the confusion,
Add to that the fact that text messaging has matured which means the rules have changed, and users today are more choosy. If the texts they are receiving aren't relevant, chances are your users will unsubscribe from your texting service. Or just ignore you if you're sending them direct texts.
Is including text in your digital strategy worth it?
Mobile phones are the most used global communications device. Recent figures put the global figure for smart phone users at 2.6 billions ... and growing!
In the U.S., 97% of people text one or more times every day. That means the number of texts sent by the average American is double the number of phone calls. In some groups, the texting rate is even higher. Each Millennial, on average, sends 2,022 texts each month. That's 67 texts each day. And people rush to answer their texts: Answering an email? 90 minutes on average. Answering a text? About 90 seconds!
As a result, mobile devices are becoming the #1 choice for digital communications.
Does your church have a mobile communications strategy?
Many pastors, church leaders, and ministers face the same problem: how to quickly communicate important information to your entire congregation. The emergence of numerous digital, mobile, and online communication channels has created a wide variety of digital options and tools that you can use to get your messages out and cut through the clutter of daily life.
When a message is sent, people are notified right away. Text messages are the most efficient solution if you are looking to get a brief message out to the majority of people. With a 97% open rate, it is worth the small cost for each message because you can be certain that nearly everyone who receives the message will read it.
Phone or free app options
With text messaging services like Viber, Skype, iMessenger, Google hangouts, WhatsApp, GroupMe, kik, etc. available for free use, why would you need anything else? For example, both GroupMe and WhatsApp are applications for a smartphone, but have a limited number of features. The application GroupMe allows you to create groups on your mobile device so you can send the same message to a group of people. You are able to add everyone within your address book to the GroupMe application which allows all messages sent in response to a group message to be propagated to the rest of the group. The application creates what is known a private chat room. The WhatsApp application works in much the same way, but each
user must have the application installed on the mobile device they will be using for sending the messages.
These are applications that can be downloaded and used on mobile devices work well for small groups, but are not suitable for use with large groups.
API (Application Program Interface) is a way in which vendors can allow apps written in different languages to talk to each other. These apps can talk together because they are connected by what is called ‘the cloud’ (a communications network). Phones usually don’t allow you to extend your SMS application that way unless you hack themneither scalable OR legal! Other free apps such as Skype and WhatsApp
are niche networks. They prefer you to use their apps and their solutions so they are not interested in integrating either.
The advantage of using cloud-based text solutions is that they are built on architectures that allow you to extend the application and integrate with other tools that you are using. This means churches or the vendors can build integrations with other vendors such as MailChimp; hence, ensuring they can roll out a streamlined digital strategy. A digital strategy that is fully integrated, in which all your systems (or most of them) are speaking to each other, can be worth the expense of using a cloud solution versus just your phone or some free app.
What are short and long codes?
Members and visitors must opt-in to be able to receive messages sent by service providers. To do this, most service providers use what are called short codes or long codes.
A short code is a number to which an SMS, or text message, can be sent. The code is usually five or six digits in length, making it easy for people to remember. For example, a short code could be 54321. A short code may be specific to one mobile operator or “common” and supported by all major mobile operators. A long code is a 10-digit telephone number.
Short Codes +/-
Although usually more expensive, short codes (being short) are easier to remember. Also, you can send large volumes of messages without being flagged by the cell phone carrier. For example, it is possible to send 1 million messages within 5-10 seconds.
Short codes are great for opt-ins during conferences, large evangelistic events, and in larger churches because they give people a quick, easy way to connect with what’s happening at the moment. However, due to their power, there are many more TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) restrictions governing how you can opt people in (usually only favors self opt-ins vs. manual). Also, once a person unsubscribes from that one shared number, they have essentially unsubscribed from everything. E.g. Using this shared short code across a multicampus? This means they would be removed from all communication across your campus as well. At least, this is what short code providers are legally meant to do.
Long Codes +/-
Long codes have a lower barrier of entry because they are more familiar to people. After all, long codes are just like regular telephone numbers, complete with local area codes. Also, long codes generally offer easier options to build your contact list. Plus, manually adding names is ok.
Long codes are used for the continuing relationship for three important reasons:
On the other hand, the length of the long code has a higher barrier of participation. For example, it is not as easy to say as the short code. As a result, it can be difficult for the church to sell a longer code to a crowd who may be distracted by what’s happening in the conference, concert, or other major event. In other words, the end user in that crowd might feel like it is a hassle or too much to actually do in order to participate.
How to choose between short codes and long codes
The type of relationship you want to create determines the choice.
Short codes feel more controlled, more professional. Users don’t feel they are giving some random, unknown person their phone number. So, short codes suit large, anonymous situations such as public events and business campaigns. A recent use by a larger church was a wavechurch.com campaign. Wavechurch used a short code at their main service to encourage thousands of people to join their small groups. In addition to services, short code opt-ins suit large musical church events.
Long codes, on the other hand, are much more personal. The church can say, “Here’s our pastor’s number which is set up for both calls and text.” This creates the feeling that the user is getting direct contact to the church team since the user needs to give their cell phone number. For most churches, the number of first-time guests tends to be low—usually 5 - 10% or fewer of the church membership AND these first-time guests are familiar with the church or someone connected with it. In these situations, the long code does not have the same stigma but actually aids in building a healthy, communicative relationship from the start.
What else you should look for
Here are some other things you need to consider when looking at cloud-based text messaging provider.
Be proactive by going to the company website to check out how active they are and if they are providing value. Are there any case studies? What about social media activity and blogging? What about the company’s attention to best practices? Is the system church-focused? If the company is familiar with the church niche, they will most likely have relationships with other church vendors (programs, apps, etc.) which you are already using. Also, they will understand church culture which is usually going to mean that their solution and process reflect common values.
Speaking of integrating, does this company offer an API? If not, does it at least integrate with your current app vendors? Adding a digital tool that doesn’t fit into your digital tool kit just doesn’t make good sense.
Can you try it out easily, contract-free? Really, there is no reason why a reputable company is not able to let you try out their system with no obligation. Avoid contracts where you have to sign up for a year. Also dubious are trial options which ask for a small cost to cover the purchase of the phone number. If you are really sold on a ‘pay first’ system, speak to a salesperson before signing up in order to see as much of the system as possible.
To help you with your research and next steps, download this free guide.
Digital Evangelism is evangelism using digital tools and a digital strategy.
It’s still evangelism, and it’s still meant to lead people to Christ whether you are doing personal ministry or corporate evangelism.
These are the same methods that have worked for our church for decades, but now we are either using a hybrid of digital and traditional tools or fully digital.
So if digital evangelism is just evangelism using a digital strategy and digital tools, then the outcome of your digital evangelism should be the same, right?!
Planting sends, helping nurture and/or participating in reaping events?
The cool thing about digital, or the digital-traditional hybrid evangelism, is you are able to reach more souls and create systems to ensure that the fewest number of people fall through the cracks. You are also able to shorten the entire discipleship process.
For this piece, let’s focus on corporate digital evangelism.
How effective is your church's digital evangelism?
By now, most churches are way past the “Facebook is the devil” phase and many have some type of online digital presence or strategy. But as good stewards of your ministry’s resources, how well is that digital evangelism paying off?
If you have the facts and figures to answer, good for you. Really. Because this is where many church-focused digital strategies fall short.
We’ve gotten the message that we need to get online (mobile and other devices), use texting, be present on social media, and all that good stuff. However, the boring data and campaign stuff are usually not done. We do the planning and mostly understand what traditional evangelism entails. We have the before, the during, and the follow up mastered through years of experience with evangelistic meetings. For digital, as discussed above, the requirements are basically the same. We have to get good at the process, the data and tracking, and the systems.
Here are my top 3 takeaways learned over the last decade of working with digital evangelism directly (as a church digital strategy team member) and indirectly (as a church digital strategy adviser):
Takeaway #1: Show proven results.
Your church’s online digital evangelism strategy needs to do more than just share good storytelling and receive engagement. It has to connect the dots, showing how one specific thing (such as a specific campaign) led people to Christ.
That means your digital evangelism has to be data driven. It needs to capture the data, track it, and report the facts and figures which prove that people became closer to God.
Not everyone that enters your “campaign” may be converted by the end of your campaign, but what if you could provide that person with tailored content that would allow them to be closer to a decision?
In Part 2, we will dive into how to set this up.
Takeaway #2: Remember: Ministry first.
If the Truth alone were sufficient to convince everyone, we could just leave Bibles laying around and our work would be done. But different people respond to different things, and so our mission is more challenging. And that’s the point—it’s a mission, a ministry. We need to remember that it is a long-haul proposition, not a bunch of cool, ‘flash in the pan’ things, and we’re done. We must keep at it, try new things, and develop a tailored strategy geared towards our ministry's specific audience.
Takeaway #3: Keep it prayered up.
Do we follow the Biblical model of pray—study—serve? We often get so carried away in the ‘serve’ part; I know I do. It’s natural because we are passionate about what we are doing. So, we forget the pray—study parts, forget about letting the Spirit lead us, adding God’s grace and power to our human work.
Not part of your church's budget?
No problem. Scale back to find things that work with the resources you have. Be patient and prayerful. Mindfully, keep connecting the dots. With God’s blessing, your dedication will pay off big time.
When it comes to evangelism, one of the best tools to use is text messaging.
Just to be clear, texting or SMS is “the act of sending short, alphanumeric communications between cell phones, pagers or other hand-held devices, as implemented by a wireless carrier.”
Top push back on texting - it’s impersonal.
If I was to get your number today and call you vs. sending you a text, which would you prefer and which are you more likely to respond to?
In fact, you are likely communicating with your team through some form of text. Perhaps text written in emails, on Slack or Twitter, but most likely, you are communicating through text messages using the default text app—no data required and pretty universal.
This is what Evangelist Wyatt Allen discovered at one of his local seminars (an evangelistic meeting) here in Houston. He was doing all the other steps like mailers, emails, proper registrations, and having a clear strategy. He was also making calls during his evangelistic series’ off-days.
He would call 100 people who signed up and get 10 people to pick up. Out of that 10, many fewer were really engaged with what he was saying. 90 ignored or didn’t answer the call and very very few followed up.
It was Day 3 of the seminar when Allen was speaking with me—the then assistant communications director at Houston Central Seventh-day Adventist Church—about strategy and logistics when the question came up: “How can we build relationships with our first-time attendees and get them coming back nightly?” I pointed Allen in the direction of a bulk, text-messaging platform I was building.
It wasn’t the first time Allen saw texting being used at one of his seminars. In fact, in a previous seminar, the local Pastor had used his cell phone to text the church members every day leading up to the event.
What he had seen didn’t register as a viable option to Allen considering the time and energy it would take to use a cell phone for members and guests. However, using a cloud-based solution for texting made sense as it scales personalized interactions and would give him more tools to communicate. Allen saw he could do it from anywhere, and anyone on his team could help him engage.
Here's what he had to say about his personal experience:
Allen reports that at the end of the Houston seminar, 70% of those who made a commitment to Jesus through baptism had communicated with him via texting. And when he went, he “left” the entire communication with the other guests and the contacts who got baptism with our local church. This created continuity—something that using just his cell phone would not have allowed.
Since the seminar, Allen has continued to use texting as his main form of communication at his other meetings. He reports that his results regarding people’s new commitments to Jesus have stayed consistent. Allen understands it is not the texting, per se, but his ability to minister in a more effective and connected way that has made the difference.
Allen told me that that his ability to use text to connect with everyone in a seminar or meeting was amazing. But it’s much more. Allen says,
“When all the personal responses come pouring in, well, that is beyond amazing! I can now connect with each attendee in a very personal way.”
Allen continues to use all tools available (mailers, emails, knocking on doors) but texting is a must for all his series. He says it’s a great technique for connecting and staying connected. He is amazed at how effective it is and how easy it is to include. Allen encourages every minister to use text. He says it is “a powerful digital communications tool because it is social, non-threatening, and allows the receiver to respond in his or her own time (no pressure).”
As he uses it personally to keep in touch with family and friends, Allen says that using it for ministry is actually a no-brainer...but not something that he had really considered or experienced until Houston.
I asked Allen what his top three bulk texting features are:
Allen explains, “I have my guests text HOPE to my local number. The texting system automatically asks for their name and email and opts them into my special group just for them. Then I send them all the updates and announcements, ask them questions, or just say ‘Hi’ (to start a conversation).”
“When I want to send a link to a page on my website, a video on YouTube, or just a special message, I have them text a unique keyword. For example, for my guests who are looking for good sermons, I have them text ‘PREACH’ to my local number and automatically they get a message with a link to AudioVerse.com, my favorite sermon storehouse. I have my prayer warriors text ‘PRAY’ to my number and they’ll automatically get a Bible verse and be subscribed to my prayer group, making it easy to send them each the new prayer requests that come in,” says Allen.
Allen told me, “I just love the fact that when I send a group text, I don’t have to worry about everybody getting everyone else’s follow-up texts—a constant thorn in my side with my phone texting app. When they respond, I’m the only one who sees it and I can personally engage with them.”
However, for Allen, it doesn’t stop there. “But I love so much more: I can send and receive pictures, emojis. The texting platform has a mobile app (for Apple and Android). I can tag groups to create another level of segmentation. I can answer the phone if they call my local number. I can do polls. The system is fast, simple and intuitive. Oh, and I’ve never had to wait long to get the help I’ve asked for.”
Every registrant, volunteer, and team member is entered into the bulk texting platform (phone number and name). This means that in just a few seconds, you can send all your guests a message. Equally, you can quickly connect via text with all the volunteers. Additionally, each guest, volunteer, and team member can text you at will.
Using texting during your event
During your evangelistic event:
How well does it work?
Churches consistently report that using texting enables a more effective, connected and personal ministry. For example, people who are too shy to ask in person can text in Bible questions. Also, people who did not get an answer due to lack of time can be followed-up with later. Another area is commitment to Jesus through baptism. Ministers say that a majority of the people who commit at the end of an evangelistic event had stayed in touch during the event via texting.
Full disclosure: Evangelist Wyatt Allen uses PastorsLine and has since invested in the company. However, these sentiments were captured before he got involved. PastorsLine is adventist-owned and operated by, and I am the creator.
However, you can implement the process discussed using any cloud-based text messaging solution of your choice that allows you to use a local number (not short-codes).
If cost is a factor, a good option to consider is something like Google voice. It won’t give you all the text communication tools that Allen uses, but you can potentially have a number that isn’t directly tied to your personal cell phone.
Overall, bulk texting is an ‘easy to include’ technique for connecting and staying connected. The power of this digital communications tool comes from its social, non-threatening characteristics and because it allows the receiver to respond in his or her own time without any pressure.