By Brooke Temple
Planning and organizing an event for a large number of congregants introduces many variables. Dates, times and locations are all subject to change, often on short notice.
For churches reliant on volunteers (and with limited financial resources), the need to quickly communicate schedule changes is even greater.
Enter: mobile messaging.
Mobile technology has made huge strides in the corporate world in recent years. But, the same qualities that make mobile communication perfect for businesses — affordability, reliability, scalability — are just as desirable (if not more so) for non-profit organizations.
3 types of mobile messaging
1. SMS — With SMS texting, you can communicate urgent information in a way that’s practically guaranteed to reach your audience. At least 95 percent of text messages are opened and read within minutes of receipt, easily making SMS the most effective way to quickly reach lots of people.
2. Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) — MMS allows you to send more than just text; send images, audio files, video and more — all delivered to recipients in the same way as SMS messages. Events such as charity initiatives might be better communicated with words and images (like a virtual flier) which you can send using MMS. MMS is an attention-grabber, well-suited to issuing that first announcement of an upcoming event in a way that will be remembered.
3. Voice Broadcast — Similar to SMS, customized voice broadcast messages can be sent to thousands of congregants simultaneously, but with the extra dimension of personalization that’s crucial to community outreach. Features like ‘Press 1’ allow recipients to transfer directly to a member of the organization, further enhancing the spirit of civic connectivity. Retire your phone tree and reach all congregants at once!
Taken together, these three avenues of mobile communication can revitalize the dialogue between church and congregation. Planning can be more inclusive, and can minimize the chances of disgruntled parishioners showing up for an event only to find that it has been canceled.
Sure, there is little backlash when a small group meeting is canceled due to circumstance. But when it happens again and again, such disappointments chip away at participation enthusiasm. And for volunteer-based organizations, enthusiasm is the main currency.
The frustration for church leaders relying on word-of-mouth (or even mass emails, which reach only a fraction of their target audience on short notice) is that many of these events are easily rescheduled or relocated if attendees can be notified in a timely manner.
Let’s say there is a congregational picnic planned at a local park. Inclement weather is forecast, and a last-minute venue change to the church’s multipurpose room is needed. A group SMS or voice broadcast prevents the ensuing chaos and inevitable decline in attendance.
Schedule changes, cancellations, traffic and parking issues — for communicating urgent information to large numbers of congregants, SMS is more effective than any other means.
But, mobile messaging can also play a key role in the early stages of event planning and promotion. MMS, SMS and voice broadcast are all well-suited to raising awareness about future church events and soliciting participation. Not only does the technology help you reach a wide audience, it encourages that audience to interact. Text message RSVPs give you a clearer understanding of how many people plan to attend, allowing coordinators to make refreshment and seating arrangements with greater accuracy. The benefits for budget-conscious event planners are obvious. At mere pennies per message, there is no more efficient communication tool.
Growing your congregation
The advantages of mobile messaging go beyond event coordination. Group text messaging facilitates true involvement by congregants. SMS can be used to conduct polls and surveys to gather information on preferred music or popular sermons for an upcoming service. Clergy can send inspirational messages daily or weekly.
It’s also an important tool for engaging young people — a huge task for churches in 2015. Teenagers now use SMS as their primary means of communication; any attempt to boost attendance figures among teens must look to mobile for real results.
That voice and text are no longer viewed as strictly one-to-one platforms is perhaps the most significant development in mobile messaging in recent years. Young and old alike, people are used to receiving group messages from large organizations. In fact, they expect it.
Brooke Temple is SVP of Strategic Partnerships for CallFire in Santa Monica, CA. He has more than 16 years of business development and digital marketing experience, and heads up CallFire’s sales efforts and enterprise-level customer acquisition strategies.