Back to Basics: How a Megachurch Uses Texting to Keep a Small-Church Feel
Have you ever wondered how a megachurch stays connected with so many people?
Saddleback Church is one of the largest in the U.S., with over 200 ministries and 18 locations worldwide. Over 30k people attend in-person or online gatherings - that’s 300 times larger than the average church attendance. How does a church, like Saddleback, use texting to communicate with thousands of church members and guests?
How texting became a solution to a growing problem
We sat down with Aaron Hamby, former Worship Director at Saddleback Anaheim, to get the inside scoop. Our conversation is below. Enjoy!
BREANNA: Tell us about your role at Saddleback. How did you end up in charge of a texting software?
AARON: Like many church staff, I wore a lot of hats. I was responsible for producing the weekend services, shepherding the worship staff and volunteer teams, creating special moments and experiences, and organizing an army of over 200 volunteers. My role was focused on integrating worship throughout all we do - services, events, small groups, and specialty ministries, like Prayer and Visual Arts. There were a lot of people to communicate with and keep track of.
BREANNA: What was Saddleback doing to personally connect with thousands of people?
AARON: We looked for ways to have personal touch points with our congregation. Weekend services help foster a sense of community, but spiritual growth comes from smaller communities where others know and support each other. These groups share life's hardships, study the Bible, and pray together. We also have hundreds of mid-week ministries aimed at connecting people who have similar hobbies or struggles. Both of these groups effectively make our large church feel small. But we still faced challenges in communicating with the crowd to get them plugged into small groups. This is where Clearstream shines. By using a keyword, anyone can instantly sign up for a small group or ministry. This is way more efficient than replying to thousands of connection cards with different needs/asks.
BREANNA: What were the communication challenges you faced as your team started growing?
AARON: Communicating with a team of that many people meant I was always on the lookout for a better solution than email or group text. My emails were going unread. Some people didn’t see my emails because they ended up in spam, or they were lost in the avalanche of other emails. I needed something that would help grow my team - not just in numbers but in relationships. Worship is something we do together, so I wanted to bring together groups of people who serve on Sundays, like band, tech, prayer, and vocals. I was focused on creating community through knowing and caring for one another, studying the Bible together, praying for each other, and staying in touch, even if someone served occasionally. I was looking for an efficient, simple, yet powerful way to stay connected with hundreds of people.
BREANNA: Why consider a texting software?
AARON: Texting’s response and open rates are amazing, whereas emails go unread. It’s also much easier to stay in touch using our phones. But I needed something that would help me stay organized too. Plus, we could get information to our congregation when they asked for it, and in turn, they could take actionable steps on the spot.
I was looking for an efficient, simple, yet powerful way to stay connected with hundreds of people.
Saddleback, meet Clearstream
Researching texting software is no small feat. Tons of trial and error. Tons of overpromises and under-delivers. And each church’s unique use-case matters. So when it came down to it, we wanted to know: why Clearstream?
BREANNA: What were you looking for in a texting software?
AARON: I searched for a platform that had two-way communication, the ability to work with Planning Center, and some automation capabilities. And like I said, I needed a way to manage different groups of people, including the Production Team, Platform Team, Choir Team, Visual Arts Team, and Photography Team. I wanted to communicate uniquely with each of these teams and bring them together when needed. I was also interested in using keywords — where someone texts a word to a number and receives an automated reply. This seemed like a great way to recruit volunteers on the weekend (e.g., text "DRUMS" to 12345 to play drums on the worship team) and stay connected with current team members. A few staff members were using a different texting platform, but it only sent text messages to large lists of people.
BREANNA: What did you find most useful about Clearstream's platform?
AARON: One of my favorite Clearstream features is subaccounts. I was able to create separate and unique accounts for each of our ministries, and organize them under our main campus account. When I created an account for a separate ministry, like the prayer ministry, it would get its own unique phone number that ensures the text threads for prayer don't conflict with church announcements text threads. Then, I could assign a leader to manage that account and all the communication and team members who would be using it. This has completely changed how our staff communicates with our church family, and has created a cohesive experience for communication, regardless of ministry.
Onboarding texting with a megachurch
Texting is the fastest way to communicate, and the open rates are better than anything else. To give some stats, texting has a 97% open rate, and 98% of adults in the U.S. have a cellphone. For comparison, email has a roughly 25% open rate. But deciding to use texting is only the first step. Onboarding software to thousands of people, texting or otherwise, is a hurdle that requires resources and time.
BREANNA: Did you encounter any hurdles with adding a new software?
AARON: Working on a large staff means everyone has their own way of doing things. When I started using Clearstream at Saddleback, we were using 4-5 other texting softwares across different ministries. Getting everyone on the same page was an adjustment, but Clearstream was easier to use than all our other texting platforms. Once people started using it, they were happy about the change and excited with the new abilities it offered.
BREANNA: How do you balance the advantages of new technology with the challenges of teaching people how to use it?
AARON: People tend to be resistant to change, and all new tech - even a simple app - is change. It’s important to give both congregants and leaders time to adjust. Thankfully, Clearstream allows congregants to use a system they're already familiar with - texting - without having to learn new technology. For example, if using a text call-to-action in a weekend service, people need extra time to get their phone out and type in the number, which meant we needed to leave the slide up longer. For leaders managing the software, the simplicity of Clearsteam’s website and app makes it easy to train all age groups in a short time, and allow them to start using it quickly.
BREANNA: What was your onboarding plan for training staff at multiple campuses?
AARON: While our campuses have a high degree of autonomy, there are times when it makes more sense to stack hands on a single software solution. This makes training and cross-organization communication much easier. Most of our training was done on Zoom, where I would share my screen and walk through the software with other leaders. After an initial training session with a team, I would pass them to Clearstream support for any further questions. Clearstream was super helpful, and it was great to work with the actual people we saw in our onboarding videos.
BREANNA: What were the major wins after you implemented Clearstream?
AARON: Clearstream is volunteer friendly. At Saddleback, we have a saying that “Every member is a minister.” This translates to a strong culture of volunteering from the congregation. When we research software that might be used by our people, there are a lot of things to consider. Is it usable by different age groups? Is it usable by different income brackets? Does it only work on a computer or is there a phone app? Is it easy to use and simple to train on? Can you track responses to ensure that communication is in sync with Saddleback culture and language? Can you assign different levels of access based on the user? Clearstream checked all these boxes and more.
In the end, Clearstream created a way to connect with my team, and helped our church address individual needs better. After the first week of changing our prayer requests to a text-in option, and replying to each one personally, our number of prayer requests increased by 300%. People attending church are dealing with struggles that are hard to imagine; the challenge is finding creative ways to continuously reach God’s people. People’s lives are changed when they get connected in community and feel truly seen and accepted, which is a powerful thing for a texting platform to help facilitate!
Clearstream has completely changed how our staff communicates with our church family, and has created a cohesive experience for communication, regardless of ministry.
I'm a large church interested in Clearstream
If this read sparked an interest in implementing texting in your church, or more specifically using Clearstream, then this page will walk you through important things to consider when looking at Clearstream, or any other SMS provider - Clearstream for Large Churches. We understand the technical requirements and complexities of managing a communications software, with many departments and users at scale, in a larger church.
Or if you have a quick question, our support team is happy to chat.
Thanks for reading!