We interrupt our two-part series on sharing audio to answer a couple of requests from churches that are looking to use text-messaging for various communication needs in the church. Texting or SMS (Short Message Service) has been around since the early 90s making it one of the most durable technologies out there. It can certainly have a place in an overall church communications strategy.
Most churches have enough members to make it impractical to just send these messages from a phone. It is much more practical to use a texting service that allows these messages to be sent from a computer or app. Depending on the service, there are many other features that make SMS more effective.
Before you decide on a platform, you need to understand what you want to be able to do. The main thing for most churches need is the ability to send a text message to every number on a list. All of the services listed in this post can do that. After that, the features get more complicated. Let’s look at some of those features.
It is important to consider how people will get their number on their list. For the most basic services, the administrator adds the numbers into the database. More advanced services allow people to opt in and opt out. Many services allow users to opt in and out by text. You have likely seen these services as you have been invited to text something like “keyword” to 52354.
You may want to have the ability to send some messages to particular subgroups of your overall list. For instance, you may need to get a message to just your choir, or a particular group of volunteers. If so, groups are important. Some of the services offer unlimited groups, others have limits with the ability to pay for more. Still others don’t offer this at all. Complicating this a little further is the issue of how people get into groups. On some services, it is a manual process that the administrator takes care of. Others allow people to opt into groups, either in a web portal or by texting a specific keyword to your text number.
If you are interested in groups, you may be interested in keywords. Keywords allow people to self-select into groups via text. Texting the word “choir” to a specific number might get you on the choir list, while “youth” would put you on the youth list.
If you want to be able to schedule texts in advance, you will need a service with message scheduling. With this feature, you won’t have to remember to send the text out manually, you can schedule it in advance.
Text and Response
This is a more advanced feature that your church may or may not need. This allows you to create a keyword linked to an auto-responder. For instance, texting worshiptimes to 41411 could automatically send the user your worship times.
What happens when someone replies to a text message? Services vary on handling replies. The most advanced services give you control over this. You could have the ability to be sure that all replies to your choir group get forwarded to your choir directors phone.
Phone Number or Shortcode
Services vary greatly on the use of phone numbers and short codes. This may or may not be important to you but it is easy to understand. When someone sends a text to sign up, they will need to send it to a number. When they receive a text, it will come from a number. Some services use actual phone numbers with some services allowing you to choose a local number. For many of the services, you share the phone number with other customers. The keyword is what differentiates your organization from others. Other services give you a dedicated phone number. Other services use five digit shortcodes. Usually there is one shortcode shared across the service (for instance, eztexting uses 313131).
In my next post, I will look at some of the platforms through the lens of these features. We will start with services that offer free options. Some of the services I will be writing about are: Telefio, txtsignal, Text in Church, Textify, eztexting, TextMarks, Flocknote, and ministrytxt.
If you are currently using a texting service in your church, I would love to hear about it. Leave a note in the comments. If you are in the market for a texting service and there are some features you are interested in, let me know in the comments and I will keep it in mind as I finish the next post.