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Going Mobile
By: Dana Simons

So, your church is ready to go mobile? Great! Now what?

If you haven't already, you'll be hearing quite a bit about "Taking Your Church Mobile" in the near future. And, no, we don't mean taking it on the road.  Basically, this is about making your church available to the ever-present mobile devices and connecting with a growing number of young people who can ONLY be reached on their mobile devices. Imagine the following ways you can communicate using this powerful new technology:

• Send daily text messages from your church with verses or thoughts from the pastor that follow up on the ideas presented in the Sunday message.

• Provide video and audio sermons, audio Bible readings, calendar events, and collect prayer requests all from a mobile app that the church members can access from any web-enabled mobile device.

• Allow members to make their tithes and offerings securely from their mobile devices…no cash, no check, no problem!

All of this and more is available to your church now by taking advantage of the breakthroughs in mobile services. But before you sign up for a mobile service or spend too much money on a costly app that may prove ineffective for your needs, it is important to first define the goals of your mobile strategy. Most importantly:

• What audience are you trying to connect to?

• What would you like to offer them?

• What would you like to receive from them?

• How much will it cost?

• How much staff time will it take (or save)?

There are many service providers that can build mobile apps or provide mobile messaging services or help you get started with mobile giving. Here is what you should look for as you embark on a mobile strategy.

Mobile Is MORE Than an App

A mobile app is a great way to allow church members to access everything they want to know about your church right from their mobile phone, but don't forget about the 60% of phones that are NOT smartphones. Be sure to include a text messaging service with your mobile strategy.

For example, Rockford First Church in Illinois used text messaging for a prayer campaign and reported, "Through text messages, we were able to engage with over 1,000 individuals in our church and around the nation to pray about specific things daily over the course of 14 days. We heard so many positive things about how it came at just the right time for what they were going through that day. Something like that simply couldn't have been done through another medium."

All Apps Are Not Created Equal

There are many different ways to build a mobile app. Be sure that you utilize a service that will reach the most mobile devices possible, such as an HTML5 web app instead of "native apps" that would require you to build an app for every different platform (iPhone, Android, Blackberry,etc) if you want to reach the majority of your potential audience. Not only will you reach more phones, you will save a lot of time and money in the development phase. There are over 275,000 apps available, and only 1 out of every 4 apps is ever launched a second time, so you want to design your mobile app to provide enough information and interactivity that your members will want to come back to it over and over.

Consider including:

• The latest sermons in audio and video

• A daily audio Bible reading

• A place to submit prayer requests

• An up-to-date calendar of events

• The latest bulletin or newsletter published in mobile-friendly formats

• A place to sign-up to receive text messages

• Interactive directions to your church

• A way to donate and sign up for recurring donations

Also consider if your provider will allow you to submit updates once the app is complete and how the updating process works. Native apps may require the release of an updated version, which will have to be downloaded by the user before the updates take effect. Web apps, on the other hand, can often be updated through an online editor so you have full control over your content and make any updates available to your audience any time.

Include a Way to Make Mobile Tithes

There are less and less people carrying cash, and those in the millennial generation prefer electronic forms of payment, so, when you take your church mobile, do not forget to provide a mobile donation platform. Most services will help you add a mobile donation form to your mobile app, but don't forget to look into offering text giving as well, which ensures that nearly 100% of cell phone owners will be able to donate, even if their phone is not capable of running apps.

There are different types of "text giving" options out there. You may have looked into "Mobile Giving," which allows for $5 or $10 dollar donations via text message. While this has been effective for organizations with a large nationwide audience, it has been ineffective for churches. After a long signup process and paying often expensive setup costs, the incoming donations usually don't even cover the monthly cost, let alone the steep setup fees.

So instead, look for a service that is more suited for your audience and does not limit the donation amount. A "Mobile Wallet" service, for example, lets donors register their phone to make tithes or offerings in any amount via text message, and even allows them to set up recurring payments. The result is that every member of your congregation or donor base always has a "wallet" handy any time they are compelled to make a donation…no cash, checks or credit card required, just a simple text message is enough.

Text Messaging Can Be a Life-Saver (Literally)

Almost all cell phones can send and receive SMS (text messages), and having a bulk messaging service can come in handy for emergency information, security team communication, nursery alerts, urgent changes in time or place, and prayer requests. Be sure your mobile strategy uses this simple but powerful component.

Text messaging is not just a way to reach out, but will also make your church more accessible to anyone with a cell phone carrier any time. You can save valuable staff time by automating registration for groups, submitting and forwarding prayer requests, and collecting payments. With a properly designed mobile strategy, it's like you can put a remote control in the hands of every member of your audience that they can use to interact with your church simply by sending in a keyword.

Customer Service

One last thing to ask yourself before you choose a mobile service provider is their familiarity with the needs of your church. The church audience is often diverse, and you can't expect your entire congregation to be mobile-savvy. The right provider should not only set up the technology side of your mobile strategy, but should also offer consultation and materials on how you best present these exciting new services to your congregation.

So, is going mobile worth it?

Absolutely! There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a mobile strategy. To avoid potential headaches and wasted funds, it is important to make sure you invest in a service that serves the exact needs of your church and your audience. When you get it right, you will be reaching out to, connecting with and collecting funds from your ENTIRE audience more effectively than ever before. Perhaps most importantly, your church will join the same 21st Century that Millenials joined 13 years ago.

Dana Simons is chief executive officer of BGW 21st Century Solutions, a company that provides technology and fundraising solutions for churches, www.yourmobilechurch.com.

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