How Religious Organizations Can Use Text Messaging to Uplift & Keep the Faith
“Tradition!” It’s what defines us. As Tevye so memorably sings in the rousing opening number of Fiddler on the Roof, it’s what balances us. Without it, our lives would be as shaky as the eponymous Fiddler.
This year, the way we celebrate and think about religion and religious institutions, may look very different. The Jewish High Holidays, for example, were quite unlike any that we’ve ever experienced. Our rabbi cautioned us about our own traditions, our history, and how we can’t let the virus and the economic downturn shake them down.
The price of the pandemic is costly. Of course, most folks are hurting in a variety of ways. But synagogues, churches, mosques, and other organizations of faith are feeling the pinch as well… at a time when many are seeking their guidance and clarity the most.
Congregants cannot so easily congregate. Membership rosters are down. Pre-schools, Hebrew schools, and Sunday schools across the country require a Wi-Fi connection. And even bake sales and other types of fundraisers are limited.
Perhaps more than ever, religious organizations are looking to technology to connect, engage, and raise the capital they’ve lost. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were celebrated via live services on Zoom, sparking a beautiful celebration. The upcoming Christmas holiday will likely have many families viewing church services online.
These are new times, and as we sometimes learn, new times can call for new traditions. Shuls and churches can reach a wider, global audience via digital channels and smart texting strategies to keep members up-to-date on upcoming virtual events and services, donation opportunities, and more.
The Importance of Connecting: How Tech Can Keep Up Traditions
Even prior to the virus, congregations have been focused on finding creative new ways to boost memberships and participation. This is particularly true for the younger generation. Traditionally, this comes in the form of events targeted towards this age demographic, whether it is teen groups or singles-style events for millennials. But with these events shuttered for the near future, religious organizations need to reimagine outreach methods.
Texting can help you connect with the faithful quickly, immediately, and efficiently… whether it is to speak about religious verses or serve as an important check-in.
A house of faith is not just a building or a set of programs. As Rabbi Nicole Auerbachs states for an article in The Jewish News, “We want to make sure that everyone feels seen and recognized and has a sense of connection… What is powerful is that people build really deep relationships — people who are there for them.”
Church pastors are also seeking ways to reach parishioners. Pastor Andy Finch of Choctaw, First shares how he and his staff are texting every church member personally with 1-on-1 Chat twice a month to meet their needs during lockdowns and days of social distancing.
At the onset, members often asked for prayers for health and safety. But as the pandemic has lingered on, members have begun asking for other powerful thoughts, such as opening up about the stress of the quarantine on relationships and marriages.
“I was really surprised by the number of men who said, ‘Pray for my mental health. I think maybe a year ago that would have been seen as a little out of bounds in our culture. But men were saying, ‘I’m struggling, I’m hurting. I’m afraid.’ They were very open, and it gave us an opportunity to not just read the text, but respond, and I would at that point go ahead and call them and meet with them.” The pastor said that this has also empowered his staff, who have been able to connect with members in ways they may not have before.
Texting Can Generate New Revenue for Religious Organizations
Used thoughtfully, SMS texting can amplify the message you’re trying to deliver and connect with members. It can also help boost struggling revenue streams that have stagnated since the quarantine. Religious centers are losing millions.
The concern is tangible. In May of this year, two major historic Brooklyn Reform temples announced they were considering a merger as a means for survival.
Pastor Paul Baudhuin, of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Minnesota said that, “We need to rethink everything now. We may have to cut staff, including my own hours. Should we sell our building? ... COVID is forcing us to make decisions we hadn’t planned to for another three, four years.” The LA Times estimated that some mosques lost as much as $100,000 in just the final 10 days of Ramadan alone, when donations during Islam’s holiest month of the year typically account for about 25%-30% of annual revenue.
Texting can help religious leaders during these turbulent times. Like a business, religious centers cannot thrive without income. One third of U.S. congregations have no savings, according to the 2018-2019 National Congregations Study conducted at Duke University Divinity School. And a mere 18% have about a year’s worth of savings.
Actionable Items to Boost Revenue & Engagement
Donations and engagement are crucial to reach. Included below, find key takeaways for how to SMS can help you navigate the pandemic:
- Leverage Text-to-Join fundraising programs to boost all-important finances. SMS text messaging has incredibly high open rates (at 98%) — so you’re sure to get members engaged and active.
- Connect with powerful 1-on-1 Chats and reach out to members you may not be able to see face-to-face (or mask-to-mask) so easily.
- Automate Reminder Campaigns for major sales drives and ongoing donation opportunities like food distribution programs.
- Text trackable links to virtual services to ensure continued participation in Zoom events.
- Send secure texts with trackable links with 2FA authorization for donations. Transfiguration Church in Oakdale has had an 85% rise in credit card donations, even while in-person donations have dropped sharply.
- Seamlessly connect with students taking religious study classes, reaching them where they are: their cell phones.
- Celebrate the upcoming holidays. Whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or even a Festivus for the Rest-of-Us, you can share in the spirit with an engaging MMS GIF or audio clip.