Can You Build Community Through Text Messages?

Bryan Haley

90% of text messages are read within 3 minutes. That means texting is a great tool, so let's talk about the viability of using texting to build community in church!

Show Notes

Episode Summary

Text messages are an effective way to communicate. Texting is also a great way to create conversation and build community. Here's how to use text messaging to engage with your members and develop deeper relationships with members of your community.

Mentioned in this Episode

Transcript

Jeanette:

90% of the 26 billion text messages sent daily are read within three minutes. The stats are clear. Text messages are an effective way to communicate, but texting is also a great way to create conversation and build community. Today. We're talking about how to use text messaging, to engage with your members and develop deeper relationships with the members of your community.

Bryan:

The church communicator, welcome to the church news podcast. I'm Brian Haley and I'm joined with my co-host Janette Yates, and we are here as always energizing church communications.

Bryan:

Today we're talking text messaging, so I brought in the best guests that I know to talk about text messaging and that is Jeanette, of course.

Jeanette:

Oh my goodness, it's me!

Bryan:

Why don't you tell us why you're the best person to talk about this.

Jeanette:

I'm flattered that you have asked me here today Bryan and thank you for having me. In my day job, I work with churches to create strategies for connecting with their members and guests through texting. That's what I do all day.

Jeanette:

Some of you who are listening, may be thinking that texts are spammy and annoying, and maybe you're even hesitant to use another technology tool to connect with your members. After all I know preachers are looking out at us in the sanctuary and the pews and wanting us to put our phones down and actually listen to the sermon. So, why would I want to give them another reason to look at their phones? But, what if I told you that there are simple texting strategies you can use throughout the week to keep your members engaged and even more connected with you and other members when you do gather.

Bryan:

I'll admit, I think text messages sometimes can be spammy. How do you actually use text messaging to build community? Because, that's what we're talking about here. In this little mini-series of podcast episodes, we've been talking through building community in an online, or kind of non-physical space; I guess, texting isn't really online. We're trying to find different ways to build community because people are dispersed. People are interacting differently than they did even two years ago, so how is text messaging beneficial for building community?

Jeanette:

The first thing I want to address is the idea that texts are spammy. Texts are used in the business world for marketing purposes. We've all texted something or opted in to get a coupon or something. And then we regret it because we're getting nothing, you're like I just wanted my 10% off-

Bryan:

My smoothie.

Jeanette:

Yes, and now you're telling me every day I need a smoothie. I don't have time to get a smoothie every day, stop texting me. I want to push back with the idea that the text is the problem.

Bryan:

The content of the text.

Jeanette:

The content of the text is the problem. Texts aren't spammy, how you use texting can be spamming. So a couple of things and I'm going to kind of quickly move this so we can get to the actual community building part.

Jeanette:

If someone has given you the permission to text them, they are trusting you with that information. You need to protect that trust and use it wisely. So, when you're inviting someone to connect with you via texting, you want to be clear about what's in it for them. If the smoothie place said, if you text us and join our texting thing, we're going to send you a 10% coupon every single day. Then you can't be mad at them if they send you a coupon every single day.

Jeanette:

Same with churches. If you're saying to them, we want to stay connected with you throughout the week, we're going to be sending a couple of text messages through the week, just to keep the conversation going or keep you in the loop as to what's happening. Then you're letting them know, Hey, we're going to be texting you a couple of times a week. Then you should stick to that. I think if you do the person on the receiving end is not going to feel like you're spamming them. Now, if you said, you're going to keep them in the loop about relevant things happening in your church, and then you text them other things that might be another conversation. But in general, people have opted into your texting. They have said, yes, I want to hear from you. And it's okay to text them.

Bryan:

It's all about the content that you're sending. How do you use the content that you're sending to build community?

Jeanette:

We really saw this amazing uptick in using texting for churches to stay connected with their community and maintaining and in some cases, even building relationships through this pandemic. Then of course the pandemic is still here, but even after people are starting to gather a little bit, we're still seeing this happen. Here are a couple of ideas that we saw people doing that really generated community. I want to talk through some of the things that we saw over the course of the last year and a half.

Jeanette:

Initially, a lot of people weren't connected with our members through texting. They had to get them connected. So they said, Hey, we know that we can't meet in person right now, so we want to be able to text you how we're going to be gathering for worship and checking in on you to make sure you have everything you need. Please let us text you, so they did that and then they had this group and then throughout the week, not only were they sharing, okay, we're going to go live. Some people were just doing Zoom. Some people are going live on Facebook. They were sharing that information. But then they also were just texting their members and saying, Hey, do you have everything you need? Do you need us to go to the store? Want us to go to the pharmacy for you? Do you need your grass mowed? In those first four weeks it was really like… and it was amazing to watch the response.

Jeanette:

We talk this sometimes in our episodes, I love any kind of multi-generational coming together. Members that hadn't necessarily texted, start texting to stay connected and get help and all that kind of stuff. So that's one thing. That's just that very basic, how can we help you this week?

Jeanette:

Whether you're in the middle of a pandemic or not people want to be encouraged or connected with during the week with a simple, how can we help you? How can we pray for you? That is still something that we're seeing very useful right now connecting with members. And not just members, but a lot of churches are just using it. They're putting out text this number with your prayer request and we'll pray for you kind of thing out in the community. We're seeing that still it's been very effective.

Jeanette:

Those are just a couple of initial ideas, but I've got more.

Bryan:

Let's talk a bit about that strategy. How do you create a strategy that effectively communicates well? Churches have phone numbers, right? They already have that contact information, but you don't want to just start texting them right away, because like you said that's kind of spammy to begin with. You need permission to do that. So how do you even start building this list to start communicating well with people?

Jeanette:

We use a digital connection card feature. So you can say to your members, Hey, we want to keep you in the loop. If you text the keyword loop, we'll send you a digital connection card, you can fill it out and then we'll put you in the group and we'll keep you in the loop. So there's easy ways like that. There're also ways people can scan a QR code and get that digital connection card. If you want, you have things out in the world where you're posting that QR code and people can scan it. There're different ways to gather people's information: digital connection card, QR code. You can have something on your website that allows people to give you their information so that you can follow up with them. That's another option that is available at Text in Church. Those are easy ways to get people connected where you're not just cold texting them, as we like to say in the business.

Bryan:

How do we use text messaging to develop deeper relationships with people in our community? I feel like that's a little bit different. So what does that look like?

Jeanette:

One of the things that can also be kind of annoying is a group text. Where you might say, well, I can just open my phone and select all the people and just do it from there. But then, if somebody replies, then all 100 people, you just texted-

Bryan:

And unless they're all on an iPhone, you can't remove yourself from the group. You can only mute the conversation.

Jeanette:

We don't want to do that. At Text in Church, you can create a group inside the platform that has all of your members. And then you can just select, I want to text this group and it sends that message to everyone in the group and they get it individually. It comes from your local number. They see it from you, the church, or maybe you personally, depending on how they have it saved in their phone. Then when they reply back, that just comes to you, not everybody else. So that's helpful in keeping that spam down, but then another thing that's happening is that's creating a one on one conversation potentially. When you send out a message to all of your members in the loop group, How can I pray for you today? And somebody replies back you as the administrator of that group in your church account, and any other administrator can see that prayer request and one of you can reply back to it and actually pray.

Bryan:

So I think what you're explaining here is something that we probably need to clarify. Community and text messaging looks a little bit different than the other platforms. The community we're building through text messaging is more with the church and an individual rather than the congregation building community with each other. So I think that's kind of a careful distinction.

Bryan:

We don't want group chats via text message because nobody likes those. But what you're doing is you're building community and you're building more consistent connection with the church, with the staff, with pastoral care team, whatever that looks like. Right?

Jeanette:

Right. And then, it's an individual experience for you as the receiver of the text message, but everybody is experiencing connection with the ministry staff, with the church as a whole. So everybody's communally experiencing that, but on a one-to-one basis. When we come back, we have that sense of, I have felt connected to my church all week. But there are some other things that we saw some people doing over the last year and a half that did kind of create a universal community. I want to share some of those more fun ideas.

Jeanette:

In addition to everybody having to shut down, we also at that period of time have people that are in rural areas. One of the members I talked to all the time, she is the texting pastor person. Everybody knows it's her, even though it says the church name. She is reaching out to her whole church, but also individually every week. Another thing that she and some other churches have done is when they can't meet together, whether it's because of COVID or extreme weather, or something, one thing I've seen people do is say, Hey, send us a picture of where you're worshiping today. Send us a picture of your favorite, quiet time spot, or whatever, and they send pictures back. Then they can share those on social media or something like that. It's creating community and keeping everybody connected together.

Bryan:

Cross platform.

Jeanette:

Yeah, cross platform. So there's that.

Jeanette:

We also have a lot of churches that use it with their youth group and they do texting scavenger hunts. So you may be using that to text out okay text us a picture of this when you find it and then we'll text you the next step or something like that. They're creating community through that.

Jeanette:

What I really believe, and we talk about this where I work and also I think most church communicators would agree, there's not only one best tool. You need to be showing up everywhere people are, on their phones, and creating both one-to-one and one-to-many options for people, because some people want to be connected with a bunch of people, maybe in a Facebook group, and other people are like, I just can't even deal with Facebook. Don't want to. But I really still want to feel connected with church. I want to feel connected with my pastor. I want to feel connected. So I think that doing cross-platform or staying connected with people throughout the week using texting, but then gathering in person, or gathering in your Facebook group, or gathering on your Zoom, or whatever are all connected.

Bryan:

That's a good point and I think realizing that we talked about this a while ago with Jason Caston, about being omni-channel. Talking through, you can't just rely on one method, or one medium, or whatever. You have to meet people where they're at. I think this is a key way to do that oftentimes. Thinking through churches that I've talked to that have been in rural communities, text messaging is probably a much better way to go to build community than Facebook or something, because I can remember distinctly a church that I visited in Maine and talked with the pastor and the leader there that they just didn't have reliable internet. So they needed to find more creative ways.

Bryan:

Even if you're in an urban or suburban area, people are on their phone and probably maybe even more so. Right? So text messaging, regardless of where you're at, as long as there's cell service is probably a good way to go.

Jeanette:

We talked about that. I gave some stats at the beginning and they're just crazy stats. There's a temptation to hear that and think, There's 26 billion texts every day. Why do I want to send more texts? I don't want to be part of that noise. But what you're doing, as a church or as the pastor, you're not part of that noise, because you're not saying, Be the first five people at church and get the-

Jeanette:

You're not doing that. You're saying, Hey, I just want you to know I'm looking forward to seeing you at church on Sunday.

Bryan:

We talk a lot about breaking through the noise too. Finding those genuine ways, if you're adding value to someone's day; that is breaking through the noise, that is valuable content that people want to receive. Whereas, the 10% off coupon for a smoothie that I had three weeks ago, not so valuable. That's, what's adding to the noise.

Jeanette:

One more thing. One of the things I said in the intro was, What if I told you, you could connect during the week so that when you do gather you're more connected. It's a youth group trick, but I really feel like you can use it with everybody. One of our members, one of the things that he does with his youth follow-up is, once the kid opts in to receive texts and he's welcoming them as part of what he's doing, he says, Hey, what's your favorite candy? Then the next time they come, he has that candy for them.

Bryan:

Very thoughtful. That shows that you care.

Jeanette:

And it shows that it wasn't just a silly question. What's your favorite candy? We do that on Facebook. What's your favorite candy? But then nobody is going to show up at my house with Twix If I post that on a Facebook comment. Twix is my favorite candy y'all.

Jeanette:

I know you can't get everyone's favorite candy if you have 700 people. Maybe, you have a group that you're texting, so maybe it's not always texting all your members. Maybe you're texting your Sunday volunteers and you're asking them, What's your favorite kind of coffee? What's your Dunkin' order? What's your Starbucks order? And then you're showing up on Sunday with some coffee. You don't have to go buy candy for 700 people.

Bryan:

For sure, but you can find other ways to care for people, right? That's what you're doing. Showing empathy, building community, that's what we're trying to do. I think that's really cool. I think there's a lot of ways that churches can use texting to build community, especially that connection between church leadership, whether that's lay, pastoral, or whatever, to the members of the church, because I hear it all the time and I'm sure many churches do. No matter what we do, people in the congregation feel disconnected. Especially throughout the pandemic, there's not enough things we could do to help people stay connected. This is just one more tool that people can use.

Bryan:

If people want to learn more about Text in Church, which is where you serve, where you work, where should they go?

Jeanette:

Speaking of community, I highly recommend coming to the Text in Church community Facebook group. And you can also just always go to textinchurch.com and we've got some stuff there for you as well.

Jeanette:

If you want to learn more about texting and how do you do it for ministry and how not to make it part of the noise, that's what we're talking about over there a lot. We're strategizing together, we're working together, we're brainstorming ideas and that's a lot of fun. Of course, I'll be in the Church Juice Facebook group too, but also [inaudible 00:17:53]church.com is a great place too.

Bryan:

Thank you Jeanette, for both co-hosting and being our guest today. I love that you are an expert in so many areas. I really do appreciate what you bring to the conversation here. We will continue today's conversation in our Facebook group, the Church Juice Facebook group. You can head over to https://churchjuice.com/podcas... and find all the details there.

Bryan:

Next week, we're going to talk a little bit about Zoom and video and how to build community through video discussions, video chat, because that was something that was huge during the pandemic. You kind of kicked off this series by saying, you still need Zoom. So we'll talk about that next week in the next episode and what that means, what that looks like.

Jeanette:

And y'all, if you haven't heard Church Juice has launched a grant program for churches. You can all of the details about how your church can get free money and support to build your next big communications idea by heading to churchjuice.com/grant. But hurry, because applications are due this coming Sunday, October 31st.

Bryan:

Get them in quick. We've had a lot of people apply already. I'm excited to read through all those and I've put together a team that's going to review them. Jeanette, you're one of those people. I'm excited about this program. Again, we'll share a link with that in our show notes today, you can get all the show notes, all the links that we've talked about and we'll continue the discussion in our Facebook group. Just head over to churchjuice.com/podcast. You'll get all the information you need right there.

Jeanette:

Church Juice's podcast is a listener supported production of ReFrame Ministries, a family of programs designed to help you see your whole life reframed by God's gospel story. Church Juice is produced by Bryan Haley with post-production by audio engineer Nate Morris in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For more information about Church Juice, visit churchjuice.com/. For more information on ReFrame Ministries and our family of programs visit reframeministries.org/.