I've mentioned that we were moving into (yet another) new way of communicating. Over the last two years it's become clear that my reliance on e-mail was hampering my attempts to communicate with my youth. They were pretty clear that e-mail was not something significant in their lives. They might look at it occasionally.
So that wasn't helping. What they were into was texting. The problem is that texting doesn't lend itself to the kinds of information transfers that I normally do. A text is commonly less than 150 CHARACTERS. (As an example the last sentence was 44 characters long. So I can do three fairly short sentences.) And doing mass text "mailings" wasn't easy and usually was fairly expensive.
My first thought was a relatively new service called "Twitter". According to their website
"Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?".
The problem with Twitter is that I would need all my youth and leaders to sign up and then either add me to a list of Twitter-ers that they follow on their cell phones or regularly check their Twitter page for my "tweets" (that's what the individual messages are called). It just didn't seem like the answer I was looking for.
(I will note that at least one youth minister out there, Shaun Mayfield Student Ministries Pastor at Red Mountain Christian Center in Mesa AZ, has found a way to make it work that is kinda cool. I quote him from the comments page at YS Blog:
We have been using Twitter in our youth as a MAJOR feed for information for a little over a year. We use it during our services and during the week, I will explain both.
We knew the fight to stop phones in service would be a constant battle so fight fire with fire. I have an intern that has a copy of my sermon notes with certain areas highlighted and he sends out a twitter as I am saying that, about 5-10 during a service, there is a lot of reasons for this that is VERY positive, email me for more reasons.
I start of every message with a 30 second intro saying if you are new here pull out your phone and send a txt to 40404 and type follow eikonlive then if it is your first time then put in your name and you are all set up. Then throughout the week we will send you updates. We have nearly 200 people that are people that have been through our doors and several parents. The key is building a culture within your group/kids/parents.
Then we also send out updates/event details/ etc during the week, respecting the amount of txts.
As we explain it regularly it doesn't take time and it has created an AMAZING culture in that our kids are having conversations through twitter and responding to the tweets during our service asking questions or delving into the topic deeper.
You can check out their Twitter page HERE
It seems like a very creative use of the service but I was looking for something more straight forward (at least in my own mind!)
And I think I found it. JOOPZ This is a web based texting service that works with pretty much any cell service in the US or Canada. It offers "two way" texting, group messages, reminder notes, scheduled texts and more. The free service is pretty good so I looked to see what the Premium would cost me.
I looked at that three times. Most of the bulk texting places charge that much or more a month. In fact I just re-re-re-checked because I'm still not sure I got it right.
Yep. $2.95 a month. $19.95 a year.
Joopz isn't perfect. The largest group I can create is only 10 people. Since I'm hoping to get at least 100 people signed up that means 10 groups. Which is still WAAAAAY better than most other options. I'm also more limited on my messages, only 100 characters. So two sentences. My youth will approve any limitations on me talking, lol!
Because it's web based I can access it from anywhere I have internet access. I can see this as a way to communicate at Senior High conference, at convention, at EYE plus routine updates on what's happening with applications, web updates, new e-mail(!) and more.
So I'm pretty excited. Now I just need to get folks to "sign up". I'm not going to just randomly cull cell #s and load them in. By my lights that would be wrong. So I still need people to "enroll". Which amounts to sending me their name and cell phone number. I do the data entry.
My promise has been that they'll only get a limited number of texts from me, maybe two a week, no more than 12 a month. It's all designed to point them towards other things of note.
At least that's my vision for the moment. We'll see how it works out.