RJ Grunewald is a middle school minister and the developer behind the apps Whoopie Cushion and Clips for iPhone. He is passionate about student ministry and serves full time at his church Faith Lutheran in Troy, MI. RJ is also a brand new dad and blogs about his thoughts and ideas on youth ministry, technology, and theology. Check out his blog here.
One of the most effective ways to communicate with teenagers is through text messages. Most of our teenagers have cell phones and are constantly on them sending and receiving text messages. Because of this, it’s extremely common for us youth workers to have a strong desire to utilize this technology to communicate information about our ministry and interact with students. Thankfully there are a variety of options to make this happen – each of which has some benefits and also some pitfalls.
1. Get Your Own Short Code: $500-$1000+ per month
You’ve probably seen the 5 or 6 digit phone numbers that you can sign up for texts from. The benefit to having one of these numbers is that you can have your own number and potentially even make it a custom number. This is probably the least likely solution for any youth worker because of the astronomical costs, but it’s valuable to know why you can’t do the same thing that some of the big businesses are doing. They pay large costs to get those short codes.
2. Group Text! app for iPhone: $2.99
The iPhone doesn’t make it easy to send mass text messages. You can send a message to up to 20 people at the same time, which may be all you need, but as soon as you want to send a message to more than 20 people or have multiple groups to manage this becomes unrealistic. Fortunately developers have created apps that amend this problem by allowing you to utilize your address book groups to easily send a mass message. Because of iMessage and group messaging settings, you may have to adjust your iPhone settings to make the app function properly, but that is only a minor hurdle to have easy mass texting.
The difficulty however comes when it comes to making that group; you cannot simply have a group in your contacts named “Youth” and then send to all of them, you need to individually type each of their names in order to send a group message. Despite manually having to type them in, the only cost then to you is the cost of texting and the time it takes to type the names.
3. Twitter: Free
Twitter is not exactly a mass texting service. Because of the nature of the social network you can utilize it to work like one. This way of using twitter will basically be asking people who want the messages to use their cell phones to sign up for twitter and follow your account in order to receive the updates. It will be effective and cheap, but it may not have quite the flexibility of a true texting service.
4. Simply TXT: $10-$40/month(based on which plan you choose)
Simply Youth Ministry teamed up with txtsignal has and put together an easy to use text messaging service. They offer a few different plans depending on the number of mass messages and number of contacts that you need. If you’re looking for a package that is built exactly for the purpose of sending mass messages to your student ministry, this is the service.
5. Google Voice: Free
Google Voice doesn’t have a built in mass texting feature, but does allow users to get a free phone number that can tie to a gmail account. With some email work-arounds, you can get free mass text messaging in no time utilizing a group e-mail. One of my favorite benefits to Google Voice is that it actually allows you to use a real phone number; this service is very effective in texting students and by utilizing your e-mail client properly, you can text large groups without a problem.