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.
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.
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.
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!).
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!
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.