[Editor's note: This article is a summary of the presentation, "Saddleback Church: How One of the Largest Churches Nationwide Has a Purpose-Driven Mobile Program," presented at the DMA 2010 Nonprofit Mobile Day last Thursday.]
Saddleback Church serves the Southern California community through more than 200 ministries, eight worship venues, a variety of counseling and support programs, Bible studies and seminars, local and global outreach programs, and a broad network of small groups meeting in local homes. It is one of the largest churches in the United States. Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback, is well-known beyond his church. His book, "The Purpose Driven Life," has sold more than 30 million copies. In January 2009, Warren delivered the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration ceremony.
Saddleback aggressively experiments with new technologies. If something doesn’t work for the church, the costs are so low that it can move on. And as one of the largest churches in America, it has the scale to show that what it tries works or doesn’t work.
Why mobile? As Doug Hart of Saddleback said, “We want to be where people are, and mobile is where people are.” People are distracted. Whether you’re a brand or a nonprofit, you’re fighting for every person’s attention. Text messaging is one of the best ways to cut through the clutter.
Saddleback started off by adding text message polling to services on major holidays like Easter. Those services are broadcast on XM Radio and streamed on the Web. Text messaging allows those outside of the church itself to become active participants in the service.
After a successful test, Saddleback took the polling a step further. Polling on its own was meant to build community cohesiveness. The next step was to use text message polling as the initial "touch" of its new member engagement process. When the audience members responded to the poll question — in this case about their spiritual state of mind — they received a text back, asking them to respond with their e-mail addresses to learn more about Saddleback. If they responded to the prompt, and many people did, that information was passed via Ez Texting’s API into Saddleback’s own communication system. Depending on the answer to the response to the spiritual state poll, people received target e-mails.