“We believe the best way to reach and love students is to ‘be’ where they are.” This one line from the RUF Jackson State website explains not only how the Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) Christian college ministry ministers to students on over 150 college campuses across the country, but how Pastor Elbert McGowan, Campus Pastor for RUF at Jackson State University, communicates to students and alumni. A key communication tool he uses at RUF Jackson State is group text messaging from TextMarks.
There are too many variables, too many “ifs” with other [communication] tools…SMS from TextMarks eliminates the “ifs.”
Many Limitations With Social Media and Email
While McGowan continues to use social media and printed flyers as part of his communication efforts, he realized a while ago that it just wasn’t working the way he wanted it to as a stand alone communication tool. To drive awareness of RUF Jackson State’s many activities, meetings and services on campus, he uses Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and distributes printed flyers on campus. While useful, there are still many limitations. Students would sometimes miss time-sensitive information if posted on Facebook. Instagram works better for them, but there is still no way to target his messages. And email? Not with students. According to McGowan, “Email is for ‘serious’ or ‘professional’ matters like writing letters of recommendation, but not useful for conversations with students about getting together.
McGowan decided to use the technology that students were already using: text messaging. At first, he sent texts on his own phone. “When our ministry was smaller, I could do a group text to everyone. But I would always hit bottlenecks. It wasn’t efficient.”
Using TextMarks To Target Messages and Coordinate Groups
That’s when he started looking for a mass text messaging provider and found TextMarks. With TextMarks SMS, McGowan is able to send last minute reminders, event invitations, links to forms, surveys and quarterly newsletters. “One of my favorite features is being able to create multiple groups: master groups and subgroups. Our keyword JSURUF is our parent group, which we use to provide mass reach and send alerts for big events. But the entry point for students is often small groups, so we have multiple keywords for those. The beauty of joining a small group is they automatically get rolled up into the parent text group. So if I want to text message just the girls, I send my text to the RUFGIRLS group. This is also great for alumni. Because we’re in a college ministry, we get high turnover – students graduating every year. So now we are creating an Alumni group for graduating students to join too.”
Another way McGowan uses the TextMarks text message service is for organizing lunch orders! He has 3 bible study groups that meet on Wednesdays, and since it is during lunch hour, McGowan provides lunch. “We created a Google Form that asks their name and what type of sandwich they want. I use TextMarks SMS to send out a link to the form, students immediately fill it out and I can easily print out the Google Doc, send it to Subway and lunch is ready in time for our meetings.”
Text Messaging Eliminates the Ifs
“Our numbers have grown and I think we have finally figured out a way to assure that what we are doing is actually being seen. A student’s lack of attendance won’t be because they “didn’t get the message.”” When McGowan started 3 years ago, there were only 100 students in RUF Jackson State. Today they are at 300, though they have almost 900 subscribed to their text group.
“What I think is going to be here to stay is SMS texting. Students get text – you can guarantee the message will be there. There are too many variables, too many “ifs” with other tools: IF they are on Facebook, IF they turn on their push notifications, IF they open their email. But they will always have their phone with them and text notifications will stay unread until they actually read it. SMS from TextMarks eliminates the Ifs.”
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