No perfect method exists for churches to stay in contact with members beyond the worship service. People have various preferences of how, when and how often they want to be contacted.
The desire for immediacy is at odds with the fear of intrusion, being personable with being technological. Increasingly, the telephone chain has been replaced with the email blast.
Email is my preference, despite its drawbacks: Messages are only read when the software is opened, spam is a constant nuisance and filters may send your email to junk mail purgatory. Marketing service MailChimp reports the average open rate for religious e-newsletters is just above 22 percent (but notes their figures only include campaigns sent to 1,000 or more).
Instant messaging is more immediate, but the accompanying notification sounds and pop-ups can quickly become irritating.
Another option is text messaging or SMS (short message service). Started in 1992, texting has steadily grown in popularity, with mobile users, for the first time in 2007, texting more per month than calling.
The Pew Internet Project found that 90 percent of American adults have a cell phone, and almost 80 percent of them use text messaging (pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/mobile-technology-fact-sheet). A 2010 study commissioned by SinglePoint found SMS open rates were as high as 99 percent, with 90 percent read within three minutes.
While these statistics seem too good to be true for church marketing, remember that no one form of communication works for everyone. Use these suggestions:
Shop around. Many group texting services are available. In the past year, United Methodist Communications compiled a list of texting service choices (umcom.org/learn/bulk-text-message-service-providers-for-churches).
Compare features, your overall use and the size of your recipient list to determine a service’s value. You should be able to arrange a free trial to test the service. If your church uses content management system (CMS) software, SMS services may be an available option or add-on.
Sign up. Building a list requires more thought than simply adding every member’s cell phone number. Not everyone with a mobile phone wants to or is comfortable receiving text messages, and others have carrier plans that charge for incoming texts.
Instead, direct members to text a keyword to a shortcode that you have reserved in advance — for instance “FBNEWS” (326397) — to a number to sign up to receive texts. Multiple sign-ups can allow people to sign up for general and specialized lists such as youth, singles, deacons and event notifications for non-members.
Be creative. It is better to plan future ministry possibilities than to provide a service and then start experimenting. Including images, audio or video links to a message expands options. SMS services list ideas to use. Mercury Flight (MercuryFlight.com) is particularly impressive.
As a church visitor, a Christian Computing Magazine survey respondent gave his name and cell number and was instructed to turn off the ringer. During worship, he received announcements, the Scripture, sermon points and graphics and could text questions. After the service, the staff thanked him for visiting and later contacted him for prayer needs.
Not every church will take this approach, so other possibilities for texts are event updates and reminders, service cancellations and emergencies, promotion of worship and messages, survey visitors or thank them for attending, prayer needs, volunteer and ministry options, church marketing, distribute Scripture and encouragement, meeting updates and church announcements.
Ken Satterfield is Word & Way marketing and advertising coordinator.
Email vs. IM vs. SMS: Choosing the right one (PC World)
What is SMS? MMS? Shortcodes? Keywords? Mobile marketing definitions (Marketing Tech Blog)
Let’s talk about text (TimSchraeder.com, former Directo of Communication at OPark Community Church, Chicago)
5 ways churches can use group text messaging (TextMarks)
10 text messaging techniques real churches use to connect with members (Church Tech Today)