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Touching Through Texting
By: Steve Fultz

Are you aware there are 4.1 billion mobile phones on the planet? To put that in perspective, there are more mobile phones in the world than televisions, automobiles, credit cards, or computers.

How are you using this device to impact ministry?

No doubt you've seen it. Chances are pretty high that you've actually done it. It's been appropriately labeled "the preacher position."

The culprit shows itself in social situations (meal, meeting, athletic event, service, walking, driving, etc.), and suddenly, the head bows in the preacher position, the hands wrap around the cell phone, the lips might move, there's potentially a facial expression, and then fingers and thumbs tap aggressively on the micro keyboard. After a brief pause, thinking no one noticed, the head slowly rises and the phone slowly disappears out of sight until the next vibrate or beep signifying another text message.
Mobile phones are here to stay! They are both a blessing and a curse. It's the only device that is never out of arm's reach, even as the battery is charging. These are powerful devices.

Smart phones are the only device that people can read the news, listen to music, play games, watch movies, and talk to people all over the world.

It's time to put these to use for our ministries.

Statistics
The statistics are staggering. Eighty-six percent of Americans own a mobile phone. A shocking 68.7% of these mobile phone owners admit to being frequent texters. 1.56 trillion text messages were sent in 2010, triple that of 2007. Do the math. 52,083 texts are sent every second!

Compare e-mail to text messaging. We know that 90% of e-mail is marketing e-mails or spam. Only 20% of e-mail messages are opened. Mobile phone numbers are much more personal than e-mail addresses. Ninety-seven percent of text messages are opened. Of those that are opened, 83% are opened within the hour! It's clear. Text messages are opened and get faster responses than e-mail.

You can estimate many of your church members are active mobile phone users. With their permission, why not connect with them in the manner in which they respond the fastest?

Setting the Stage
You already know meaningful and consistent communication with your church members is essential to building a sense of community among the congregation.

Traditionally, churches have used announcements (verbal and printed in bulletins) during services to keep the congregation informed.

Some churches take it a step further by using weekly or monthly newsletters and e-mail. Recently, fan pages on Facebook have become a platform for people to engage and interact.

All of these methods are positive ways to reach out to your congregation. Consider embracing the mobile world.

Be on the forefront of a movement that will continue to change the way we connect and interact with our world and the people in it.

Services
Don't be overwhelmed by this technology. There are partners who can help you reach your church. Many text-messaging companies that offer services to best meet your specific needs.

You can customize your church's mobile site to include a link to the purpose of the message of your text. The possibilities are endless.

Some samples uses of effective text messaging are as follows:

1. Sermon preparation: Ask questions about upcoming sermon series. Ask for personal experiences to use as testimonials. Give people ownership.

2. Thought of the week/month/urgent prayer request: Send a reminder message of a particular passage or theme that fits the current sermon series. The link could allow people to post responses and reflections of what God is doing in their lives.

3. Feedback/poll: Ask your congregation a question. Get creative. Use this as a real-time response mechanism during a sermon.

4. Emergency/inclement weather broadcasting: Inform your people of the status of service scheduling.

5. Donating: People can click on a link that takes them to online giving.

6. Registration: Have people text their info to confirm attendance at an event.

Suggestions
Specific and planned use of text messaging can help engage and interact the church with you and each other. As with anything that can be good, there are also drawbacks and cautions to text messaging.

Use the service sporadically, probably no more than two times per month. Overuse will desensitize the message.

Make sure people know that they are opting into a way to communicate with you. Also, make sure people have a method to opt-out (cancel the text messages at their discretion).

In general, respect your congregation's personal space. Use this tool for thoughtful reflection or an important call to action.

Going out into all of the world requires we use all the resources available. Mobile texting is something you should explore.

Steve Fultz is president of All Access Merchandising, www.allaccessmerch.com. Text stevefultz to 90210 for contact information, as well as a free PDF on mobile marketing for churches.










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