Text message marketing is the next frontier of pastoral leadership.
In five years, church texting services and marketing will be as common as social media marketing was 5 years ago.
The question is:
Will your church be the one to embrace text marketing and grow? Or wait five years to adopt it and be just like every church that created their first Instagram account in 2016?
Here’s the deal:
I know that text message marketing seems this new, invasive way of using data to interact with your church members.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
But listen… I get it.
You’re still a little hesitant to adopt text message marketing because you’re worried it will damage your relationship with your members.
That’s a common belief.
But it’s a myth.
And here, we’re going to debunk the myth that text marketing is a suspicious new tool and show three things:
- Basic lingo
- Why you should adopt it today
- What are the best practices in text marketing for churches
Let’s get started!
Basic Text Marketing Lingo
Before you dive into text message marketing, you need to know the basic lingo used by these marketing services.
Get this lingo down, and you’ll have a masterful command of this strategy in no time.
What does SMS stand for?
What is SMS messaging anyway?
SMS stands for Short Message Service.
This is the kind of texting you were used to in the 90’s.
An SMS marketing message is a 160 character text with no images.
This kind of message is crucial for communicating key information to users.
When did texting start, anyway?
The first text message was sent on December 3rd, 1992 from a programmer named Neil Papworth, from his computer, saying “Merry Christmas.”
Not long after, they figured out how to harness this technology as the primary tool for phones to communicate the most information using the smallest amount of data.
What does MMS stand for?
Never heard of MMS? No problem.
MMS stands for Multimedia Messaging Service.
Send an MMS text to send a rich, long message that exceeds 140 characters, and even includes key images, rich links, and information-rich copy.
SMS vs MMS
Which should you use as your marketing text? SMS or MMS? In the MMS vs SMS standoff, there doesn’t have to be one winner.
Let me explain.
SMS marketing only allows for up to 160 characters per text, right?
Here’s the crazy think:
MMS marketing technically allows for an unlimited number of characters per text (although carriers often set a cap).
Carriers tend to charge more for MMS, so a good text marketing campaign will use a mix of SMS (key info messages) and MMS (image-rich, long-info messages) to make the most of their budget.
There’s no use sending a high-cost message to communicate what you could say in 140 characters.
So, now that you’ve got a solid grasp on the basic lingo, it’s time to understand why you should implement it, and how!
Why you should adopt marketing texts today
Most of the information you find on the web today is marketing material by a marketing service trying to persuade you to use their product.
I’m not going to try to sell you any product right now.
Below are the cold, hard stats about marketing and text messaging for churches, that you need to know before you make any decision.
These facts prove that marketing through church texting is the future of church communications.
People actually want you to text them
85% of mobile device users prefer a text over phone calls or emails.
People are used to getting texts.
People don’t mind getting texts.
Processing a simple, well-crafted text message takes less than 10 seconds for the average individual.
The text message queue on someone’s phone isn’t like the email queue.
Everybody knows someone with 8,726 unread emails in their Gmail account (but not you, right?)
Nobody has more than a few unread messages.
That’s because people read, process, respond—easily.
Text marketing is an easy way for you to insert yourself into the daily information processing system that people have.
Texting feels organic to people
Texting is the most-used mobile device feature.
When people receive texts, they assume that the persons texting them got their number from them or their friend.
People give more authority to texts they receive than emails (a ton of spam), Facebook messages (mostly pyramid schemes), or even phone calls (telemarketers, anyone?).
A text is the ultimate, uninvasive, supremely personal way to communicate with someone.
You have to overcome the same hesitancy with text marketing your church members that you overcame with asking your crush to be your prom date in high school.
Sometimes, the thing that works best for you also works best for them.
You have to accept the serendipitous possibility that what you want is also what they want.
The idea that people don’t want you to texting them is folklore.
As long as your text messaging marketing strategy is elegant and essential, your members want you to text them.
It can foster not only conversion, but conversation
Text marketing enables you to reply to each person who sends you a text back.
This means that, unlike email, you don’t have to spend a week going back-and-forth with someone until you figure out what’s going on.
It also enables you to have real-time conversations with people to get them the information they need to get to the right event, give to the right cause, and most importantly, serve the church however God has called them most efficiently and effectively.
It is one-on-one
Mass text marketing software enables you to log, review, and track each of your one-on-one conversations in order to identify areas of need, supply support where necessary, and overcome any remaining obstacles between your members and their goals.
Mass email often doesn’t enable you to interact with individuals in a way that helps them.
More than that, people know that mass emails often come from a generic address and do not offer the promise of real support.
But text marketing—even mass text messaging—gives people a sense of individual support that invites them to respond, and keeps the information in the forefront of their minds.
Open and click through rates outperform email
The average open rate for email is 22%, and average clickthrough rate for email is 6%, taking over 90 minutes to respond.
For text messages, the average open rate is 97% and average clickthrough rate is 36%, taking on average less than 5 minutes to respond.
Put simply, text messages are the best way to get the right people the right content and to ensure that they actually look at it.
Best practices for churches
We’ve established the power of text marketing, but as a wise uncle once said:
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
If you abuse the power, people will let you know.
People will get angry.
Texting is an intimate means of communication, which means that any text message marketing campaigns must be crafted to be delicate, subtle, laser-sharp in their focus, and crystal clear in their relevance.
In other words, whenever someone receives a text, people should know:
- Who is the text from
- What it is communicating
- Why it was sent
- Why it was sent when it was sent
- Why they specifically are receiving it
If your text message doesn’t communicate these elements clearly, it will come off as spammy and invasive.
Use these best practices to make the proper use of SMS marketing to endear recipients to your message and to make them eager recipients of future messages.
Make sure users opt-in
The Telephone Communications Protection Act means your users must opt-in (this means that you can’t just enter their number into your system—they must personally enter their number into your system through a form or sign-up sheet so that they know they indeed are opting in for messaging.
Make sure that you do two things on all your church communications forms:
- Add the “Phone Number” field to the top of your giving form to increase the amount of people who give you their number
- Include an “Opt-In” for text marketing right beneath the phone field so that people know when and why they will receive texts from you.
This will set you up to communicate with your church through text in a powerful way that helps them feel respected.
Only communicate vital, actionable information
Do not send encouraging bible verses to every person’s phone every morning.
Do not ask every small group participant to bring a dish to the Monday night potluck.
Do not send random texts to members asking for donations.
These are all church versions of “U up?”
Make sure that your church’s text messaging communication strategy serves your members.
By sending only strategic messages, you retain credibility among your members as a sender, they are more likely to take messages seriously if you only send important information to the right people, and you prevent people from getting a bad taste in their mouth from your church because of an overzealous communications strategy.
Segment your audience so the right people get the right content
One way to make sure you only send important, relevant information to the right people is by segmenting your list.
Send small group information to small group people.
Send potluck information to potluck people.
Send administrative information to administrators.
Very often, texting is the best way to get the right information to the right people.
But if you haven’t segmented your phone numbers into a logical list of users who have different needs, interests, and desires, then text message marketing software will be more of a liability to you than an asset.
Using a marketing software for your church without segmenting your members is like opening up a high-end sushi restaurant in farm country Wyoming—it doesn’t matter how quality your sushi is if your execution isn’t informed, intentional, and for the right people.
Use it to serve your members first, not your brand
All of these guidelines—why you should use software and how you should use it—can be boiled down a single piece of advice:
Use your marketing software to serve your members, not yourself.
The more you use text message marketing to make your users’ lives easier, the more inclined they will be to open, click, and participate.
If they get even a whiff of spam, they will start deleting your texts before opening them, or worse—blocking your number.
Like all tools in church, don’t use SMS marketing narcissistically.
Church leaders should use the texting service to serve, as Christ would have used it.
Over to you
Don’t bury your head in the technological sand any longer.
Get started now, there’s no excuse not to be a early adopter.
- People actually want you to text them
- Texting feels organic to people
- It can foster only conversion, but conversation
- It is one-on-one
- Open and click through rates outperform email
More than that:
- Make sure users opt-in
- Only communicate vital, actionable information
- Segment your audience so the right people receive the right content
- Use text message marketing to serve your members first, not your brand
Editor's note: This post was updated on May 11, 2020 to reflect up-to-date information.