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The Only Way We Communicate to Students

Josh Griffin —  August 4, 2010 — 23 Comments

I suppose there are a jillion ways to communicate to students in your youth ministry these days – more than ever there are a plethora of choices through traditional channels (like handouts and announcements) and new media (YouTube, Facebook and SMS). Then there’s the stuff that was critically important a few years ago and is still hanging around (an actual website).

In the past few years, we’ve fully embraced SMS as our primary method of communicating with students. By the time they get to high school, most all have phones and a overwhelming percentage have texting plans. We recently made a significant shift in text message providers, and thought that if either one of these might fit your needs you should check them out:

For the last 2 years, we’ve used Simply Text. Simply Text is a powerful tool to help you communicate using SMS. Here’s a rundown of the pluses and minuses after using it for a long time.

+Super easy to use
The interface is easy, you can literally go from nothing to sending out texts in minutes. The free trial lets you see it all and make sure you are technical enough to figure it out. Easy, easy.

+You can read replies
A new feature added as we used the system allowed you to see the “message stream” or the replies that come into your account. You can easily reply to individual texts.

+Dirt cheap
The average youth ministry will be spending $10 a month on the system, which is pretty nominal considering what you’re getting. Quick, slick, cheap.

-Fairly reliable
The system works well – you can literally push send and your phone will light up in 10 seconds with your mass message. In the backend, it actually is sending an email that comes through your phone as a text. It works in most cases, but if you have the carrier wrong it fails. For the most part, it works as advertised, as long as your data has integrity.

+/-Difficult to subscribe/unsubscribe
One of the downsides is that you have to a) manually add people, b) get them to manually add themselves on a website, and c) monitor the message stream for unsubscribe requests. UPDATE: The system has been upgraded over the past few months and it is now much easier to remove yourself from a list.

A few months back, we began to outgrow the Simply Text system and as texting became more and more primary (and eventually one of the only ways we communicate with students) we needed a tool that would grow with us and be highly reliable. After a ton of research, we went with Duffled.com. Here’s what they offer in a nutshell:

+Subscribe by texting
This is a HUGE game-changer. See the message on a poster, on a handout or on the screen and you can pull out your phone and immediately subscribe. We get new subscribers without doing a thing. Boom. Same thing – when a kid graduates – they remove themselves. If a parent wants in – simple.

+Students can send in keywords and get automatic replies
This is a big upgrade, too – when a student wants more information on something they text 39970 with “hsm baptism” or “hsm serve” and get specific instructions, dates, times or directions. We set up unlimited keywords, with whatever information we want to be sent out by SMS robot. Brilliant!

+Guaranteed delivery
Duffled is actually sending an SMS text message – so arrival is pristine and quick. It costs more for the system to do this, but it is highly reliable and stable platform to communicate with confidence.

-Decent interface
The actual user-interface with Duffled is completely functional, but doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles. If they overhauled the face of it, it would be a huge improvement. Still though, it gets the job done but sure isn’t sexy.

-It costs for each text you send out
The big downside is that in this case you get what you pay for – which means a better system costs more money. We are biting the bullet and paying a significant amount more each month.

Either way it might be a good idea to think about all of the methods of communication available between you and students, and decide as a team which one(s) you’re going to get behind.

UPDATE: After a ton of feedback on this post (Tweets and RTs, too – thanks, all!) I thought a summary might be helpful:

For the bang for your buck, Simply TXT simply can’t be beat. Cheap, simple, straightforward and solid. For 99% of youth ministries, this is an essential tool to communicate with your students. It doesn’t have all the higher-end specs you might find from other platforms, but is consistently improving and is more than adequate for most uses. If you’re larger ministry and/or looking to really leverage texting, Duffled might be your answer. The ability to send automatic replies opens up a lot of possibilities, and the system while requiring a significant investment, is solid.

Either way, I hope this post helps you ask some good questions about communicating to your students and gives you some good options to consider as you head toward your student ministry’s fall kickoff weekend.

JG

Josh Griffin

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23 responses to The Only Way We Communicate to Students

  1. Thanks for the info. Does the subscribe by texting and unlimited key words apply to just the concierge package or all packages? I checked their website and couldn’t seem to find those details

  2. I’m pretty sure SimplyTXT did add an “unsubscribe” feature recently. your students just reply with “unsubscribe” and are automatically taken off the contact list.

  3. I’m curious about how many texts you get per month with that $35 starter deal. I can’t seem to find a breakdown for that on their site either. Thanks for the tip Josh.

  4. @davep – I believe that is all packages

  5. @mike yes, they did recently add that feature.

  6. @Jim – you get 250 texts for that amount, which you can eat up pretty quickly

  7. Just came across a really cool book – a minister preaching practical relevant Christianity to a hurting world, “The Day Metallica Came to Church” – check it out at http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Day-Metallica-Came-to-Church/137368086284103?v=wall

  8. I want to recommend that book also: The Day Metallica Came to Church. I read a sample, and now I can’t wait to read more.

  9. The book The Day Metallica Came to Church sounds amazing. Here is the link http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Day-Metallica-Came-to-Church/137368086284103?v=app_4949752878

  10. best solution for our youth group with 100+ contacts! just creates groups in a third party app and allows you to use the regular iphone texting interface … its flawless and dirt cheap! one time purchase of $3
    http://www.redbits.com/iphone/grouptext/

  11. It sounds like all your SH have texting, but that some of the JH don’t yet have cell phones. I’m curious what you do to communicate with those who don’t receive text messages.

  12. Those JH who dont get texts… i text their parents. I text their parents anyway… my big list includes every student and parents number I have. They love it!

  13. Need to think how to communicate the youth.. August 21, 2010 at 7:05 am

    I remember when Josh posted about using the simply text plan. My comment was you need to reach the youth the way they want to be reached. Yes, most youth have unlimited text plans, but many don’t.

    How can you communicate with youth? Reach them with what they have. I personally don’t use this service. Is is only an example of what you can do to reach the youth. Visit http://messageshout.com/flatfee.html and see the possibilities.

    Tim.

  14. We have looked around at all the plans and options and have just gone with twitter. Parents or students can text “follow (your username)” to 40404 and they don’t have to have twitter, it will send all your updates to them through text. It’s unlimited, it’s free, and it’s easy for anyone on our team to send out an update from computer or mobile.

  15. I hate texting. Or I should should say I hate switching back and forth between a computer and a phone for communication. I found this free App called: “Mighty text” and it installs a plug in to your browser that syncs all your texts, contacts, and pictures/videos with your phone. So I do all my texting through the computer and it takes me a lot LESS time. If I have a mass text I need to send out, I text the message to myself so I can access it on my phone and then I copy that text into another free app called: “Mass Text personalizer.” What’s great about it is not just the unlimited amount of people you can sent things to, but the fact that if you insert “%fname” it will address each person by their first name. I tend to get a lot more responses this way. You can also great word banks that randomuze a unique response to each person, and you can make message templates. This is an Android app, so not sure if there is an iOS version but that’s what you get when you are suckered into an iphone! :-D (I use a galaxy s3)

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