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Ideas for using txt messaging in youth ministry

According to my cell phone bill, I went through almost 300 txt messages last month. That averages 10 a day, which sounds like a lot, but when compared to students I know who go through 30-40 messages per day, that’s not really too many. Whether good or bad, txt messaging is one of the preferred methods of communication for teenagers. Leveraging it in youth ministry can be one of the most effective ways for us to get our message to our students.

Practical Ideas

Here’s some ideas for how you can start using txt messaging in your youth ministry.

1. Announcements and last-minute reminders
2. Event cancellations (works great when the weather forces you to change plans on the spot!)
3. Birthday wishes
4. Send Bible verses and short devos (watch for this Friday’s Freebie Friday!)
5. Contests, quizzes and polls
6. Prayer chain and praise reports
7. Introduce the weekend’s upcoming lesson
8. Get quick feedback about an idea or question

Several txt messaging services are popping up on the web that present a host of new opportunities to interact with our students using the above ideas and more. Here’s my four favorites.

1. TxtSignal.com

TxtSignal.com has been the backbone of txt communication in my youth group for over a year now. They are such a great company that I’ve already reviewed them twice. TxtSignal makes it simple to create a mass txt “mailing list” of your students. Or, if you don’t want to manually enter their information, send everyone a sign-up link or post it on your youth group website where they can subscribe, unsubscribe, change phone numbers or service providers, and more. Each TxtSignal account lets you organize txt subscribers into groups (i.e. youth group, college ministry, church staff) and into sub-groups called “teams” (i.e. sr. high, jr. high, parents).

Perhaps my favorite TxtSignal feature is the ability to queue txt messages to send at a later date and time. I queue up txt reminders about all our events and Bible studies sometimes several weeks in advance so I don’t have to worry about remembering to do it later.

The only feature TxtSignal does not have that I wish it did is the ability for subscribers to reply to my mass txt messages. Matt Donovan, the owner of TxtSignal, assures me they are working on this feature, but that it is not yet ready for public consumption.

TxtSignal is not free, but with plans starting at $10/month, it is definitely worth the price.

2. PollEverywhere.com

Ever want to poll your audience about something while you teach? Me neither, but the idea sure sounds cool! PollEverywhere.com allows you to ask your audience a question, they vote via txt message and, if you have an Internet connection, the results are displayed on the overhead screen in real time. It easily embeds into PowerPoint or displays in a web page. The service is free if you only need 30 responses or fewer, but anything over that you’ll have to start forking over monthly fees starting at $9/month. PollEverywhere.com could be a great way to make a point during a lesson, guess about a detail in an upcoming event, who will win the high school football game, or see who their favorite youth leader is (j/k!).

3. Wiffiti.com

I’m pretty excited about the ministry potential behind Wiffiti.com. Think of a virtual whiteboard in the front of a classroom that everyone can write on simultaneously just by submitting a txt message and watching it appear up front. Even people who aren’t present can participate! The “whiteboard” can also be embedded into your website and the background image changed to whatever you want.

Imagine a worship experience where, during the music set, students can publicly share prayers with everyone in real time, post reflections on what the Lord means to them, and txt their favorite attribute of God. Or, in a teaching situation, asking how each student will practically apply the truth during the upcoming week. Or a brainstorming session on how teenagers can influence their friends for Christ. The possibilities are endless.

Of course, using Wiffiti in these ways sounds like you might be vulnerable to those who will abuse the system and maybe even post something inappropriate, but fortunately Wiffiti has several moderation options and filters that give you complete control over what actually shows up on the screen.

Oh, and Wiffiti is completely free!

4. TextMarks.com

TextMarks.com is somewhat similar to TxtSignal.com except that it is used mostly for 2-way communication among a group of people. For example, one of your students can send a txt message to your youth group’s special code and it will automatically be forwarded to everyone else on the group. Likewise, when someone replies to the message, it’s automatically distributed to everyone else.

The cool thing about TextMarks, though, is that it can also be used as a “txt info hotline.” You could print your youth group’s special txt code on t-shirts or event flyers and have people “txt YOUTHGROUP to 41411 for more info.” An auto-response is sent to the phone with whatever information you want. This is a great way for people to anonymously find out more about your group or event if they are too shy to ask or just happen to see your promo when passing by.

TextMarks is also free, but remember that standard txt messaging charges apply with all these services.

[ UPDATE ] In the comments below, Lane Gilbert points out that TextMarks includes text ads at the end of the messages. He stopped using them when he saw one for a psychic hotline. Now he uses Txtsignal.


Posted on August 6, 2008

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  • Lane Gilbert

    FYI- i was using txtmarks and it was working great until….. they use ads at the end of the texts you send, usually not a problem since they were mostly for the shirts and other things they offer, but the other day it was an ad for a psychic hotline…..i have quit using them and switched to txtsignal.

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim Schmoyer

    @ Lane Gilbert! Thanks for that tip. I had no idea. I’m going to update the post about that.

  • http://www.faithengineer.com Mike

    Tim, thanks for the great post. I have tried out txt signal and poll everywhere, but I hadn’t heard of wiffiti yet. It will fit in great for some interactive services I want to try.

    Another txt service that I use is Jott. Jott transcribes your voice messages and converts them to text that is sent out as text messages and emails to your entire group. If you don’t trust the voice recognition, you can type out your messages. I use it all the time to send out quick updates to the youth group. The only drawback is sometimes the messages get split up into multiple txts. It does add some extra text to the bottom of the message so you can listen to the original recording.

    And the best thing is that it is completely free.

  • http://coffeewithchris.com Chris S.

    Mike is right! Jott is GREAT as a text messaging tool (not so much for really large groups) but also as a personal productivity tool.

    Don’t forget about Simply Youth Ministry’s new text service! It is actually supported by TxtSignal so if you are considering paying for that service why not support fellow youth workers?

  • rodney

    You could also try using tuggle.it. It is a youth social networking site that also allows you to group text (FOR FREE!!!)

  • Michael

    Just curious why Jott is not as great for really large groups. Is it because you have to manually enter all the info??

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim Schmoyer

    @ Michael: I’ve never used Jott, but if you have to manually enter in info and don’t give people an easy way to remove themselves from the list, I agree that would make it difficult for large groups.

  • http://www.jesusandjava.org Dan Browne

    I love free. How would you handle/justify txtsignal on a budget of oh $500 a year?

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim Schmoyer

    @ Dan Browne: It depends on what the size of your ministry is. If you’re only talking about a couple kids, sending messages to their phones via their phone’s email address is free. That gets to be a big hassle and pretty unmanageable for larger groups, though.

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  • http://twitter.com/lightmanx5 ~JOSh-X

    TextMarks sent me an email today saying that they’re offering a “Pro” version to get rid of the ads!

    If you’re interested in that, check it out :)

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  • http://www.myspace.com/pastorjsohbrown Josh Brown

    Hey guy,

    I have checked out all these programs before. Lat year I got a Blackberry Curve. Blackberry allows you to set up groups in your address book. I set upa group for our ministry. I have over 100 students. I can add and delete memebers quickly. I send out text messgaes every single night. Devotionals and announcements, prayer request, etc,. It has been amazing. Send it once and it goes to everyone. I send over 11,000 text a month, but when about 4,000 of those come all at one time it is not bad. If we go to an event I can send a mass text out of where we are going to meet or what not and every kid gets it. My unlimited package is $25 a month but is priceless in comparison to the connecting I can do with my kids. Our visitor card has a place for studnets to check if they want to be added or not. I have check and there is not limit to the number you can add to a group. I have just talked to our National Youth Pastor about doing this for our entire denomination. Let me know if you would like to know more.

  • http://MURGE411.com Tyree

    Anyone know of a more affordable one if you have over 300 contacts?

  • Infectious_4_JC

    I have had really good success with Broadtexter.com it is free the only thing that is not super convenient is the fact I cannot set up groups. It does separate by state but that is the limitation of it's groupings. You simply add "ALL:" to the beginning of each "broadtext" and it goes to everyone. I don't know but this has worked for my particular group. I have set up 3 different Broadtext's my largest right now is near the 100 mark. This may work for some of the smaller groups. They have a free code generator to give you a widget for your facebook/myspace site or for your group's website.

    Just a suggestion….

    You all may have discussed them on here before and I just missed it! Just thought I would pass it on.

  • Jarrod Billings

    Does anyone know if there is a way to set up a group on an iPhone?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/timschmoyer Tim Schmoyer

      I think the web version is supposed to work fine on a mobile browser. Or, you can use your account's secret "broadcast message" address and text a message to it that you want forwarded to a team or group on your txtsignal account.

  • stephentrainer

    We have used Simply Txt and Duffled.com detailed review at http://wp.me/p1iF9w-1C

  • Catherine
  • Ben

    http://www.telefio.com/how_it_works is what we use and it's very affordable and perfect for our large youth group.

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