Learn how to engage and cultivate a relationship with first time church visitors through texting.
They go by many names, but one of the most common is the “C.E.O.” Also known as the “Christmas, Easter, Only.” Everyone knows that holidays bring in an influx of new church goers, and that’s great! We’re not shaming anyone who isn’t an every-Sunday church-going worshiper. However, as a leader in your faith community, I bet you were wishing you could connect with this audience outside of just religious holidays.
89% of Americans say they believe in God, but on average only 36% of people identify as weekly religious service attendees. Religious organizations around the country are shaking their heads as they try to account for the missing 53% each week. So how can churches around the country begin filling the pews with parishioners eager to get involved in their faith?
We encourage you to look to your cell phones for the answer.
Sending Texts to First Time Visitors
Americans send roughly 26 billion text messages every day. For most teens and adults this means their phone is usually no more than an arm’s length away. While you can do things like scroll social media and answer emails while on your smartphone, virtually every single cell phone can text. And they can do that without a need for data or internet connection. When you’re looking to send something as crucial and widespread as the word of God, you need that degree of reach.
Fostering a relationship with people who are new or on the fence about their faith is a fragile conversation. There is a right and a wrong way to approach the subject, especially through texting. Understanding the guidelines is the first time in getting started.
Texting Church Visitors-Best Practice
To make this as easy as possible, here are some hard and fast rules for initiating faith-based conversation via text.
- Provide ample opportunity for people to give you their phone number. Small flyers and pencils on each pew are a great and cost effective method. Putting a sign-up form on your website is also crucial.
- Feel free to text people a “thank you for coming” message! This is a great and personal way to initiate conversation that can hopefully turn into a deeper relationship.
- Text your subscribers regularly (weekly, monthly, etc.) to keep your texting program active and valuable.
- Reach out to people one-on-one. Offer to send them additional resource, or ask them if they have any questions. Making yourself available and responsive is a crucial step in building trust with your subscribers.
- Buy lists of phone numbers and randomly text people with religious material (or any material really!)
- Bombard people with messages all at once. Make sure your messages are always timely, relevant, and nicely spaced out!
Now that you have a handle on the basic “rules”, let’s dig deeper into how to put them into practice. Specifically, how do you get people involved in your church’s texting program for the first time. There are a few different approaches you can take, but we’ll share the most popular route taken by many of our church partners. The 🔑 is in keywords.
Keywords are a great way to invite people into conversation. Keywords are simply a word or phrase that people can text in to your number or short code to “opt in” to receive your messages. In other words, it’s a way for people to add themselves to your contact list. Advertising your keyword broadly is the best way to ensure you’re attracting as many people as you can.
A great way to do this is to invite your parishioners to take out their phones at the end of mass and text the keyword in right there! This announcement should be made on holidays of course, but there’s also no harm in working it into your announcements weekly! That would look a little something like this:
Before his sermon ends, Pastor Butler at Harvest Valley Church invites anyone who is joining them for the first time to take out their phones and text the word HARVEST to 555888. Whoever runs the text marketing platform at the church will have already set up some auto-responses that will be sent out to each new subscriber. These automatic text messages will serve as a data collection tool that allows you to gain insight into what your new subscribers might be looking for: prayer ideas, an ear to hear their thoughts on religion, more ways to get involved in the church, etc. For each category someone indicates their interest in, they will be added to a separate list that indicates they’d like to receive messages on that subject. Finally, after each mass, the pastor or a member of his team can follow up with each new subscriber thanking them for joining them and offering to have a chat with them via text!
Legally Texting Church Visitors
If you’re unfamiliar with text marketing, the most important thing for you to know if that it is regulated by the TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) as well as other federal regulations. The main goal here is simply to prevent spam.
As a religious organization, some of these regulations look a little different for you. Mainly because you are not a “for-profit” organization using text marketing for monetary gain. This results in a more flexible policy on who can reach out to who first. The easiest way to demonstrate this is by breaking down the difference between mass texting and one-on-one messaging. Keep in mind both types of texting can, and should, be used together!
- Mass text messaging: You can read a full guide on mass texting for religious organizations here. The purpose of mass texting is sending out the same message to multiple people simultaneously. This message could be an announcement, prayer request, any information you’d like to spread quickly across a group. With mass texting all your contacts are people who have expressly written their consent to receive texts from you for what would be considered “promotional” purposes. They’re consenting to receive these blasts willingly.
- One-on-one texting: Unlike mass texting, one-on-one texting (also referred to as business texting) is a conversation your church is having with one individual at a time. This individual doesn’t have to give prior consent, they only have to give you their cell phone number (you still can’t obtain it illegally by purchasing a list). This kind of conversation can be a great avenue for more intimate information sharing that allows people to ask questions about their faith in a safe space, all through a medium they’re already comfortable with. It’s an excellent way to reach out to the missing 53% and engage in a productive conversation about what they’re missing from their religious experience.
We know this can seem a little complicated at first. That’s why our support team is available seven days a week to help you out with any questions you have. If you take anything away from this piece, let it be this:
- Churches can and should reach out to people one-on-one after receiving their phone number on a connect card or any other form.
- Mass texting and one-on-one texting can both be done, it’s not always a choice between the two! It’s all about what’s best for your needs.
- Even though one-on-one texting sounds exactly like what you do on your personal cell-phone, it’s different. This is a professional tool, and with it comes a host of other helpful features. But most importantly, it’s a transparent communication portal that can be accessed by an entire staff, which is much safer than using personal devices.
Benefits of Sending First Time Texts
We mentioned this in passing in the previous section, but we can’t overstate the value texting has as a medium for outreach. When it comes to faith, people manifest their feelings in a lot of different ways. Some are bashful because they think they know too little. Some people are angry because they feel let down by their beliefs. Some people are just downright indifferent. Texting provides just enough anonymity to keep these conversations productive, calm, and judgement free. Not to mention it’s simple and accessible by almost everyone.
95% of texts will be read within 3 minutes of being sent. Unlike emails which can sit in your inbox for days or voicemails which often go unreturned. The time it takes you to invest in sending these outreach texts compared to the potential benefits of connecting with a potential parishioner isn’t even a comparison. Minutes compared to a lifetime of commitment is a pretty spectacular conversion rate in our eyes!
Texting is great for a lot, but at SimpleTexting we’ve seen it do some incredible things for some of our religious partners (see for yourself). Using SMS to connect with first time visitors is just the start of limitless potential!
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