Text Messaging and houses of worship: it might not seem like a match made in heaven. Many a youngster has been caught twiddling on their cell phones, sending a text to their friend two rows ahead, in the middle of a service.
But as text messaging, also known as SMS (short message service), has grown ever more popular, some churches have found reason to embrace it. Many houses of worship are warming up to texting, using the burgeoning medium to engage their congregations in new ways.
Let’s look at the state of texting today and see how ministries are using the technology to reach their members in new ways.
The Texting Phenomenon
Text messaging is an incredibly popular way to communicate. In 2011 alone, Americans sent and received over 2.3 trillion text messages! As of 2012, 88% of adults own a cell phone and three quarters of them (73%) regularly use text messaging. Among young adults (18-25) the rates are even higher, with a full 97% using text messaging.
What’s more, people are virtually attached to their phones: an astounding 65% of American adults (and 90% of young adults 18-29) even sleep with their phones in bed!  Perhaps that’s why, unlike email or snail mail, virtually every single text message is read, usually immediately: 90% of all text messages are read within 3 minutes of delivery, and over 99% are read eventually. No wonder so many ministries are beginning to embrace texting: it’s a sure-fire way to get the attention of their congregation in an age that seems increasingly attention-deficient.
The Youth Factor
Connecting with today’s youth is one of the most pressing tasks for any religious organization. By using their preferred channel of communication, houses of worship are able reach young people in their community more effectively with text messaging.
Among 15-24 year olds, texting is by far the most frequently used channel for personal written communication. Impressively, the average teen sends or receives 3,339 texts a month (4,050 texts per month for teenage girls). Before you pull out your calculator, that works out to a more than six text messages for every waking hour!
These figures reveal the power text messaging holds, especially for young people. Any house of worship looking to strengthen the bonds between youth and church may want to consider SMS outreach as a part of their approach. By speaking their language and communicating as they do, texting can be a surprisingly effective way to engage young people and make real contact.
Uses of Text Messaging for Houses of Worship
It’s obvious that texting is a powerful new medium. What may be less obvious is how houses of worship are using text messaging.
Emailing newsletters to congregants is a common practice for many houses of worship. Think of text messages as tiny bite-sized emails that are read instantly. Rather than summarizing lots of activities, as you might in a newsletter, texts are used to highlight one single idea in an easy-to-read format.
Bible Quotes: Daily scriptural quotes straight to your members’ phones. This is a great way to give congregants a little inspiration every day of the week. For an even greater impact, choose quotes relevant to that week’s sermon.
Example: “‘This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.’ – Psalm 118:24”
Event Reminders: Make sure all your social events are well attended. Send your members text message reminders about upcoming events and services. Remind members that day to get maximum attendance.
Example: “Reminder that the annual Ice Cream Social will be this afternoon starting at 4pm!”
Notifications: Need to cancel Sunday school due to dangerous weather? Take advantage of text messaging’s immediacy: alert your members about last-minute cancellations or schedule changes with time-sensitive notifications.
Example: “Unfortunately, Sunday School has been cancelled this week because of the snow emergency. Stay safe and warm!”
Interactive Communication: As recently featured in the New York Times, a synagogue in Florida used text messaging during a service to allow young people to share their prayers with each other. Texting is a two-way street and can start a continuing dialogue between youth and church.
Example: “When have you felt most grateful for God’s love? Text in, answers will be shared anonymously this Sunday.”
Donations: Houses of worship have been hit hard by the economic recession. By using premium-rated text messages, members can donate just by sending a text. Many charitable funds already make use of this technology (e.g. text “REDCROSS” to 90999 to make a $10 donation to the American Red Cross’s disaster relief fund). The same technology can keep your faith-community in good financial standing.
The Bottom Line
Surprisingly, text messaging solutions are relatively inexpensive. Monthly prices range from $15-$100, depending on your usage and what provider you choose. Additionally, many text marketing companies allow you to try their platform for free: SimpleTexting allows you to send 100 messages per month for free.
Every house of worship has to effectively communicate with their congregants. With a technology as flexible, ubiquitous, and simple as text messaging, the best solution may already be in hand.
Gene Sigalov is a co-founder of SimpleTexting.com. SimpleTexting.com is an easy-to-use platform that enables organizations to send customized text message campaigns directly to their all their members.
 CITA US Wireless Quick Facts, http://www.ctia.org/advocacy/research/index.cfm/aid/10323
 Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2011, http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Cell-Phone-Texting-2011.aspx
Ibid, 2012, http://pewinternet.org/Commentary/2012/February/Pew-Internet-Mobile.aspx
 Ibid, http://www.techspot.com/news/45543-97-percent-of-young-adults-use-text-messaging.html
 Pew, http://pewresearch.org/databank/dailynumber/?NumberID=1090
 Conversational Advertising: A report from mobileSQUARED, commissioned by SinglePoint, June 2010. http://www.docstoc.com/docs/119372644/Conversational-Advertising—Mobile-Squared
 ExactTarget’s 2012 Channel Preference Survey, Table 1.1 http://resources.exacttarget.com/rs/exacttarget/images/SFF14_The2012ChannelPreferenceSurvey_WEB.pdf
 Nielson Company, http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/online_mobile/u-s-teen-mobile-report-calling-yesterday-texting-today-using-apps-tomorrow/ http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/207884/us_teens_text_3339_times_a_month_nielsen_says.html