The New Town Square

... is in the palm of your hand

The truth is that there is a "new town square" and our churches better have a visible - and I would argue - leadership position in it. Historically, town squares have been where people congregate to interact with one another - to celebrate, to seek accurate and important information affecting their community. It is where people seek assistance, look for opportunity and ultimately seek truth. The town square is where people were called to action to address emergencies, save lives, save souls… Often the town square revolved around the church building or synagogue. Today, however, many places of faith are about to miss out on the most significant change occurring in the town square, and it resides at the finger tips of most everyone they serve.

The "New Town Square" is mobile. It is as convenient and close as everyone's hand. And just like the more traditional town square, the New Mobile Town Square has vendors, shops and various commercial interests popping up and surrounding it, creating an economy of commerce, philanthropy, and influence. Mobile devices, due to their ease of use, increasing bandwidth and smart phone capabilities are already being utilized by commercial and social interests.

So what presence does the church, ministry, synagogue, and, in general, institutions of faith have in the "New Town Square?" For most, the answer is nothing or a minimal presence at best. Unfortunately, if the Church does not act quickly and with clear intention, there will be huge missed opportunities to further its support, both monetarily and ultimately the loyalty of those they serve.

The Numbers

The world population is estimated at 6.8 billion. The majority of the world population now owns a mobile phone. In developing nations, often the first communication device a person will possess is a cell phone - not a computer or land line. Consider the truth and opportunity these numbers represent in the context of needing to influence and serve local and global communities via mobile:

• In the U.S. alone ...
o there are 257 million data capable mobile devices in consumer hands
o 5 billion text messages are sent each day
o 1.5 billion text messages were sent in 2009
o 91% have a cell phone

• Globally ...
o 67% of entire world population is estimated to have a mobile device
o 2.4 billion people are actively using text messaging - representing 74% of all mobile phone users.
o text messaging is projected to exceed 2 trillion in 2010

If churches, synagogues, ministries, faith based organizations (of all sizes) don't begin to pay attention to and quickly embrace this rapid change, the space available and opportunity to "earn" a place in the New Town Square will fade. You see, in a relatively short period the mobile device will become crowded thus disrupting the ease of having your message heard and acted on. Faith organizations need to begin now to earn the right to build their mobile lists.

One of the greatest commands of Christendom is to spread the gospel throughout the world. Most churches and ministries desire to serve people in need - locally and on a global level. Utilizing SMS and PSMS mobile tools (text messaging) can greatly enhance the scope and ease of communicating, financially supporting, empowering, and in general serving those a ministry or church desires to help. But how?

As a person who has helped raise funds for more than 30 years, I am very bullish on integrating mobile into our standard tried and true fund-raising tools. Remember when online giving lifted its head in the late 1990s? Or, earlier yet, remember when there were discussions about what role (if any) email would play in traditional partner/donor identification, cultivation, engagement and solicitation? Those two tools alone have had a huge positive impact on ministry and faith based enterprises. What church, ministry, or institution of faith doesn't have a web site, use email, or is already utilizing or considering online giving and/or other social media (Facebook, posting sermons on YouTube, etc).

So how does the church, synagogue or any institution of faith begin utilizing mobile?

Start with the basics. Just like building your email list, start building your mobile list. Get the mobile numbers of those attending, serving, supporting and benefiting your place of worship. There are easy opt-in requirements established by the mobile industry designed to prevent spam while ensuring the quality and right to communicate via mass text messages. So build your text broadcasting lists to share a weekly encouraging word, devotional, announce an upcoming study or share a verse/short prayer. Use broadcast texting to alert parents that "the youth group's arrival is delayed an hour due to traffic so meet at the church parking lot 30 minutes later." In emergencies, have the ability to communicate brief important messages to your entire list including pushing them to a specific URL for more detailed information.

Another wonderful mobile tool is the ability to interact with a live audience … in your place of worship, online, via TV or radio. Ask for opinions about important issues, needs, or general topics. Questions for the minister, rabbi or staff engages those being served in a meaningful way that leads to trust and familiarity associating your ministry with mobile technology that is easy to use and can also influence giving.

One of my clients uses the tried and true method of passing the offering plate each week which entails the opportunity to provide cash, check or fill out a form and add credit card info to fulfill a tithe. But as of late, this ministry is also providing a mobile call to action after the traditional and is seeing a 15% to 30% incremental increase in total funds received at worship. Not bad in this economy.

Lastly, one ministry I am aware of sends text devotionals or words of encouragement to thousands each day as a way to stay close to those they serve. The response has had a huge impact on attendance, on those signing up to serve and on giving.

The New Town Square and its mobile capability can help ministries spread their good word and work across their town … across the globe. Remember the numbers cited above. Don't miss out. Insert yourself into the mobile town square.

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