3 ways churches are using text messaging for good
Carrying a cellphone has become as commonplace as it once was to carry a wallet or a purse, perhaps even more so. In 2014, 81 percent of American adults who owned smartphones used a short messaging service (SMS). Texting seems to be the preferred form of everyday communication for many, so it only seems logical to explore the various ways churches can utilize this technology.
Many churches find texting especially handy to send mass communications for:
- Alerting congregants of time changes and cancellations
- Sending event invitations and reminders
- Announcing births and deaths and arrangements for celebrations and funerals
- Communicating special needs or prayer concerns
- Requesting feedback on various ministry issues
Using a mass-text service, a church administrator can enter all participant names and numbers once and then, when needed, type one text and send it to all participants. Many services allow you to set up automations so texts can be scheduled ahead of time.
During the Ebola crisis, SMS became an effective tool for reaching clergy in Liberia and Sierra Leone who lacked critical, lifesaving information. Faith leaders were key in adding credibility to these messages. Ken Banks, who developed a short messaging system used by The United Methodist Church during the Ebola crisis says, “Modern, sexy stuff rarely works in many of the places where SMS still works.” It's the "dumbest" technology that often has the most profound effect.
In Kamina, DRC, SMS provides a means of drug-stock monitoring so patients can be treated when diagnosed.
In Zimbabwe, SMS allows communication between Nyadire Hospital and its community health workers — helping to save undue and expensive travel.
United Methodist Communications ICT4D Church Initiatives is working with the staff of episcopal areas in Africa and the Philippines to utilize SMS as an alternative to email, which requires expensive Internet, electricity and computers. Keeping phones charged is more cost-effective as they can be paired with a low-cost solar cellphone charger.
Learn more about how United Methodist Communications is working to open global communications throughout the church at www.umcom.org/global.
Many people no longer carry cash, and some (especially those of the younger generation) don’t write checks. Text-giving, also known as mobile giving, has become one of the newest ways to make giving easy. It works like this.
- The church administration signs up for a texting service.
- Once the service has been contracted, your church receives a number or code that you can give to your congregants.
- Givers simply text the given code and dollar amount to a certain number in order to make a donation.
Different providers offer different services. Some services (usually associated with $5 or $10 gifts) do not require any additional information from the giver. The amount is simply sent to the giver’s phone carrier and appears on the next billing statement. Other services (sometimes referred to as text donations) offer givers a way to donate much larger amounts by having the giver provide banking or credit-card information.
Many churches offer mobile giving to promote consistent giving and reach church members. However, it also comes in handy for special requests (such as missions giving opportunities or benevolence issues) for which congregants may not be prepared to give any other way. Some providers, such as Give By Cell, even offer a “text pledge” service for fundraising campaigns.
In addition to giving and communication, some churches use texting in more innovative ways. One UMC pastor in Missouri decided to encourage his parishioners, not only to text him, but also to do so during the service. He answered some of the texts during his sermon and replied to the others afterward.
Another pastor announced the topic of the message and encouraged his Sunday morning crowd to text friends and invite them to “come on over” or to attend a later service. Many pastors, youth leaders and Sunday school teachers use texts to send weekly encouragements and Bible verses to congregants and class members.
One teacher asked parents of the tween boys in his class to sign themselves and their sons up to groupme, a private chat room. As the administrator, only he was allowed to approve members to the group. The boys then were able to text each other in a secure environment (and under his discretion). This allowed them to get to know each other better, even if they went to different schools or if school were not in session. It also allowed the teacher the opportunity to promote further discussion of Bible study-related topics.
With parent approval and participation, chat rooms can be a great idea. However, since there's always room for abuse, your congregation should have a Safe Sanctuaries® Policy that specifies how chat rooms are executed. We recommend that two unrelated, non-cohabitating adults who are at least five years older than the oldest youth in the group to serve as administrators of the group.
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When setting up text-giving or mass texting for your congregation, your church will have to subscribe to a texting service. A variety of mobile giving services are available, including E-Zekiel, Simple Give, Easy Tithe and mgive. Texting services and costs vary. Churches must decide which one is right for them. In doing so, keep in mind a few important points. The first is affordability. Other factors to consider include:
Security: Look for a company that has many safeguards and policies to prevent fraud. Ask about privacy issues and how givers’ information is stored and kept secure.
Simplicity: Find a company that is simple to use, not only for congregants but also for your church administration. Consider how text databases must be created and how easy or hard it will be to organize, schedule and send texts and to receive feedback. If you are considering a text-giving provider, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do we need to fundraise a large amount for a specific need, or are we more interested in long-term, consistent giving?
- Do we want givers to have the ability to text large amounts (more than just $5 or $10)?
- If so, will our givers feel comfortable providing banking or credit-card information to this institution?
- How simple will the actual process of text-giving be?
How you answer these questions will play a large part in determining what kind of plan you need.
Service: For text-giving services, you may consider whether the company managing the text-giving has a program that will integrate with your current church financial programs or if it offers another method to track donations so that you need not manually enter them, line by line.
Another important consideration is timing. Clarify how soon the contributions will be credited to the church’s bank account, if it will be an automatic deposit or if a check will be cut and sent. If a donation must be cleared by the giver’s financial institution and received by the texting service before it is turned over to your church, you will most likely not receive it in a timely manner. In some cases, it could take months.
For any texting service, also ask what kinds of customer support are available should givers have questions, concerns or problems.
Next time you see someone use their phone in church, don’t think of it as a faux pas. Think creatively. Think out-of-the-box. Think nontraditional, and find a way to use texting as a tool in your ministry.
— Tricia Brown has been a freelance writer and editor for more than twenty years, ghost-writing and editing for individuals as well as for health, education, and religious organizations. She enjoys reading, writing, and public speaking commitments in which she teaches and encourages other women.