Using technology to streamline communications by Louise McEvoy

Communicating efficiently and effectively with your church family is difficult.  Some people want intensive contact, others want the weekly essentials only, others want to dip in and out.  The range of information and messages you disseminate is huge: from inspirational material and responses to the national issues of the day, to daily prayers, reminder-based notes and admin-heavy rota schedules and requests.  Some people simply “don’t do email” or refuse to look at the website. And, in some cases, you need replies to your messages, in others not.

With such a variety of communication requirements it is easy to get swamped just trying to serve people with what they need.  You maintain multiple separate mailing lists to try to cater for people’s preferences.  You have a daily roster of reminders to send out.  Your inbox is a stream of individual replies to routine questions which need to be read, logged and possibly replied to. You spend a lot of time chasing non-responders for answers.  You use a combination of email, website, WhatsApp groups, Facebook, Twitter, texts, paper bulletins, telephone and face-to-face contact.

Why is it so difficult?  Technology was supposed to automate communications and make things easier!  The answer is that, as the volume of communications has mushroomed and people’s lives have become busier, attention spans have diminished and they have passed up responsibility for organising their lives.  Pre-internet, if you were running a local football team, you would print a card with the season’s fixtures and the onus was on the players to get in touch each week to tell you whether or not they were available for the next game.  Now you send out increasingly frenzied messages throughout the week, pleading for them to respond before the eleventh hour (and when they do, you cross fingers they will regard it as a commitment, not an option…).

Mobile apps are the newest technology attempting to address these problems.  Using apps you can:

  • Send instant messages direct to people’s phones and tablets
  • Make your messages stand out, by using push notifications to alert the user
  • Target your messages to groups of people for whom they are relevant, without creating mailing lists yourself
  • Pre-set reminders
  • Send forms and rota requests; replies are automatically collated in spreadsheets for you
  • House all required reference information and schedules about your church on the app
  • Promote the church to help grow your congregation

Push notifications messaging is a key difference with other technologies.  Not only will the recipient’s phone buzz and a notification message appear by itself on the screen to alert them when a new item from church arrives, but the user personally opts into communication groups in which he or she is interested.  These groups are set by the church, and it takes the user just a couple of seconds to opt in to their preferences on the Settings screen of the app.  When you then send out messages, forms, rotas, news articles, updates, reminders or anything else on the app, you simply tag each one with relevant groups (eg. ‘Sunday morning service’, ‘Thursday prayer group’, ‘Homeless advice volunteers’, etc) and they will be push notified to those people who have self-selected into those categories.

Hey presto!  Less work for you (no mailing list curation) and a better result for your followers (who receive relevant messages only).

The ability to pre-set reminders is a big time saver.  Using an app, you can sit down for half an hour with the next fortnight’s or month’s diary to hand, and pre-set the app to deliver reminders or news items, by push notification or not, for all events coming up.  No more necessity to remember to disseminate timely reminders day by day.

Organising your rotas by app is much easier, too.  Volunteers can find the rota request much more easily than when it is buried in their inbox, and when they reply, their answers along with everyone else’s are uploaded to a spreadsheet in the app.  So, instead of getting tens of individual email replies per week, which need to be tracked and recorded, you have one place with all answers being updated in real time as they come through.

Aside from the messaging and admin functions outlined above, an app can house all general information about your church: upcoming service timings, passages, readings, recordings of sermons, location, bios of the ministry team and elders, contact details, news, appeals, links to the website and online payments system, prayer requests, diocese newsletters, etc.  As all is available quickly and easily on their phones, the congregation will quickly learn to use it as the first port of call when they need to look up something about church or browse to see what’s new.

There is also a powerful promotional aspect to the app, as users can share items from it with their social networks or by email or text.  Attached to the article they share is a download link to your app, enabling the word to spread about your church without any extra work on your part.  Combine that with a smart, branded look to the app and the progressive nature of being at the forefront of communications technology, and you have a new way to grow the congregation.

In summary, a modern app solves many of today’s communication problems by virtue of being the most direct, quickest and focused way to reach your church family.

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