A short message service (SMS) allows cellular or internet-connected devices to send text-only messages from one to the other.1 Most of us do this daily and call it texting. Once churches start communicating through this channel, the stakes are raised. This is by far the most personal form of communication between an organization and an individual. We believe this channel can be useful for ministries but will advocate a very conservative usage of it. Think of it this way: having access to someone’s direct number puts you in the position of potentially becoming as unwanted as a telemarketer. Mobile phones are incredibly private and personal, and we must respect that.
Like e-mail, there are services that act as a contact bank and messengers. These also require permission from the recipients before they’re added to a mailing list. Here are a few statistics about SMS communications:2,3
- 80% of internet users have smartphones
- Over 50% of users reach for their phone the second they wake up
- There are over 7 trillion text messages sent every year
- Approximately 98% of all text messages are opened
Our Conservative Approach
We view SMS as a platform for seldom use. The most acceptable uses are emergencies and canceled events and services. Being able to tell your congregation that plans have changed last minute is incredibly valuable. Keeping congregants from showing up to a suspended event or leaving their homes in emergency situations is one of the best applications of the SMS platform. In serious situations, get info to them as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is also the case during natural disasters. Churches and other relief organizations can use SMS channels to recruit volunteers and identify areas where help is needed.
A more selective and less panic-induced implementation is for those who have signed up for a particular event and opted-in to a payment plan. Scheduled text reminders for pre-event meetings and payment due dates can be helpful to keep them on connected and involved. Examples would be mission trips, marriage conferences, and other camps/retreats.
If your church has a prayer team, this can be a great way to get requests to them immediately.
A Different Way
Some ministries have developed routines of using their SMS more often. These churches may use the program on a weekly basis, with the whole church as the audience, to remind them of services that week, pushing a particular event, and as a survey tool.
There are a few best practices to help structure texts and your SMS strategy. The first is to keep things short and intentional. Not all programs and phones show messages as single block texts, so some recipients end up receiving multiple texts, not just one. This can become distracting and cumbersome instead of engaging. The same is true when the text lacks clarity and a plainly understood “call-to-action.”
Whatever program is used to send the texts must have an easy opt-out option. This goes hand-in-hand with gaining permission on the front end. Be sensitive with the timing of messages; incredibly early and obscenely late are both frowned upon.