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Churches use SMS to engage congregations nationwide

Christian churches nationwide are using text messaging to engage and communicate with their congregations.

Jarbyco is one of the leading mobile providers in the space, and the company partners with iLoop Mobile for the back-end mobile technology. Jarbyco clients include the Convoy of Hope, Granger Community Church, Willow Creek Community Church's Arts Conference and Film Festival, Park Community Church, the Evangelical Covenant Church's CHIC 2009 and the Orchard.

"We're focused on helping nonprofit organizations to connect with their audiences more effectively, and churches have use mobile messaging in a variety of ways, some just polling, just alerts, some Q&A, but the SMS initiatives we power tend to be more complex," said Dawn Baldwin, senior partner at Jarbyco, Chicago. "It's interesting to see mobile leveraged in different ways.

"Different churches do different things -- they may ask questions about various topics with SMS surveys or polls, or run a scripture challenge using alert groups," she said. "A high school ministry can send a scripture verse every day to give them something to think about and encourage them to pray every day.

"Churches are finding different ways to leverage mobile technology, and it's helping them to connect to other people and grow in a way that's more meaningful than getting a coupon."

Since the needs of each religious organization are unique, Jarbyco tailors packages to the needs of each organization. Pricing is based on audience size, services used and frequency.

The company issues the call-to-action "text keyword JARBYCO to short code 47201."

Live Q&A
As audience sizes continue to grow and event programming becomes more creative, many organizations are finding ways to move away from the one-way communication approach and draw from audience feedback.

Questions are moderated and can be displayed on side-screens, a teleprompter or the facilitator's mobile phone.

"Different ministries are trying different things such as live events on the weekends, where the audience members can text in questions while the pastor is teaching," Ms. Baldwin said.

"It's changed the way they run their services so Q&A is incorporated, and the pastor can address those to the entire congregation," she said.

"It's great for people giving them a safe place to ask questions that they wouldn't feel comfortable doing otherwise."

Polls and quizzes
A quick way to address and speak to the thoughts and preferences of an audience is to run a poll.

Texting in your answer and having live results cycling on the screens allows for inclusivity and sees greater response rates than asking audience members to raise their hands.

One church asked its congregation via SMS whether or not miracles still happen today. Another asked which song should be played as an encore during a worship concert.

Text alerts
Text alerts let the church reach their audience on a number of levels in a short and direct way.

Sending mass messages with the audience's permission has the power to deliver something relevant, according to Jarbyco.

Text alerts can be used to challenge members on a specific action that would help them grow spiritually, send encouragement or a scripture verse, ask them to invite a friend to the next week's service or remind parents to pick their students up at 7 o'clock rather than 6.

"Direct and to the point, the church's influence can extend beyond Sunday morning," Ms. Baldwin said.

Prayer requests
The concept of writing prayer requests on a card at church and putting it into a box has evolved into texting in prayer requests at any time of day or night.

An account can collect all of the requests and be printed out and distributed to a prayer team or teaching staff.

A great way to leverage this technology is to display prayer requests on side-screens when worship songs are played.

"This allows for a powerful moment -- the church body collectively yet individually praying over a specific need," Ms. Baldwin said. "It's a cool thing to come from a simple text message."

Bounce-backs
This feature allows for an auto-reply after texting in. The response could be to promote an upcoming event.

Congregation members can automatically get service times or connect with a volunteer opportunity.

For example, when a congregation member texts the keyword "Mens Breakfast" to short code 24625, the system would automatically send the date, time and location details to that person's phone.

In addition, Jarbyco offers text-to-screen for live events, promotions, site links, coupons and consumer statistics.

"ILoop Mobile is the back-end service provider and mobile technology enabler," Ms. Baldwin said. "Their system enables us to launch the different campaigns -- we focus on customizing the services for a unique niche group.

"We have a passion for helping nonprofits connect with their audiences more effectively with customized mobile texting services," she said.

"ILoop Mobile has been a great back-end partner that allows our company to focus on providing great service to this niche."