Leaving your mobile phone on during a church service was once as taboo as leaving it on in a movie theater. Inevitably, a random phone would ring in church at the most inopportune time, usually during a moment of reflection or prayer. Now with the popularity of interactive text messaging on the rise, many churches are asking their congregations to not only turn those mobile phones back on, but to use them as well. With interactive text messaging services like JARBYCO and Poll Everywhere, the church can engage congregations through real-time interactive polls, question and answer sessions, or even virtual graffiti.
At Park Community Church in Chicago, IL, they are using JARBYCO in a number of unique ways. They once used an interactive poll to ask how the congregation felt about the economy and their personal finances in relation to their spiritual wellness. They also used the texting service to collect questions anonymously from the audience; individuals could text in their questions which were later answered by the pastor during the service. Using text message services instead of an open microphone allowed many more questions to be accepted and others could see the questions being asked in real-time on the side screens.
Pastor Wayne Cordeiro of New Hope Christian Fellowship, a multi-campus church in Hawaii, utilized Poll Everywhere in a church service to ask a number of probing questions to both the congregation at his church and his live television audience. As each question was displayed, the audience had the opportunity to text in their answer. The results were updated in real-time and represented as moving bar charts on a side screen. The audience remained highly engaged and the results of the polls were surprising. It provided New Hope countless opportunities to address specific issues facing the members and visitors of the church.
Churches are finding many other uses for text messaging beyond the interactive polls or Q&A sessions. Student ministries are using text messaging to connect with the youth and notify members of upcoming events. Small groups are using texting to organize fund raisers or share prayer requests, and some churches are exploring a new feature called mobile giving provided by companies like mGive and Mobile Cause. Mobile giving allows a member to donate money through a response to a text message rather than using a credit card or cash. The donations are charged directly through the individual's mobile phone bill.
It is exciting to see churches reaching out to their congregations using tools that their members are already familiar with. Integrating mobile technologies into the church culture is one way to break down traditional barriers or misconceptions that a first-time visitor to the church might have.