Rock Texting - How-to & Best Practices
Who is Clearstream?
Clearstream is a texting and email software for churches. About 4,000 churches around the U.S. (and a handful in Canada and Australia) use Clearstream to communicate with their people via SMS/email.
We’re more than just an SMS API. Our full-featured, carrier-compliant platform and mobile app let churches get going right away, without having to build something on their own.
With Clearstream, you can mass text your Rock Lists and Groups, have two-way conversations with shared inboxes, create text-to-join keywords, follow up with guests using automated workflows, take live polls during a service, and segment ministries or campuses with subaccounts.
We’re also active in the Rock community and have been sponsor partners with Rock since 2020. If you’re ever at the Rock conference, be sure to stop by our booth and say ‘hi’!
Options for texting within Rock
If you use Rock RMS and do any kind of texting within Rock, you likely know that Twilio is the default “SMS Transport.” Clearstream is a drop-in replacement for Twilio and can be added as an alternative SMS Transport with our plugin, available in the Rock Shop. If you'd like to dig into the differences between Clearstream and Twilio, we have a page just for that here.
When Twilio is the best option - Twilio is a great SMS option for organizations that prefer to build a texting program from the ground up. Good use cases would be alerts, notifications, reminders, or verification codes. Twilio is really a set of APIs that allow you to build your own platform. Clearstream is both a platform and an SMS API you can build on.
Twilio also works fine if your texting volume is on the lower end, you aren’t interested in a dedicated short code, and you don’t really need customer support.
When Clearstream is best - In most cases, Clearstream is going to be the best and most affordable option for a church on Rock. We offer a feature-rich SMS platform and API, out-of-the-box carrier compliance, automated workflows with conditional routing, and multi-campus capability with subaccounts. We also seamlessly integrate with Rock.
On the technical side, our platform can handle large volumes of incoming texts, so that your Rock servers aren’t overloaded. On the compliance side, we handle all the carrier-required opt-in, opt-out, and help texts.
How we integrate with Rock
Install Clearstream's plugin for the best texting experience in Rock RMS - If you want to send texts inside of Rock, just install the Clearstream Rock Plugin, available in the Rock Shop. Our plugin is a drop-in replacement for Twilio and allows you to send texts in Rock using your Clearstream numbers (both short codes and long codes). Once installed, you can use all of Rock's built-in SMS capabilities, including SMS Pipelines, SMS Conversations, Communications, etc.
Sync your Comms Lists and Groups into Clearstream - If you integrate with Rock through the Clearstream platform, then you can sync your Rock Communication Lists and Groups into Clearstream and text them. Your lists automatically sync every night to ensure everything is up-to-date. Any changes made in Rock will be reflected in Clearstream.
Create new profiles in Rock RMS when people text in - When first-time guests text a keyword or enter an automated workflow, you can auto-reply with a digital connect card. That information is pushed to Rock and a person is created in your Rock database, and optionally pushed to a Rock Group or Workflow. Don't worry about duplicates; if the phone number already exists in Rock, we won't create a new person.
Retrieve profile data from Rock RMS automatically - When someone new texts into your Clearstream account, we'll search your Rock database for a matching person based on their phone number. If a match is found, we'll sync their profile data into Clearstream almost instantly.
Send unique texts based on campus - If you're a multi-campus church, you can have everyone text the same keyword or enter the same workflow but receive separate texts based on their campus as recorded in your Rock database. You can set up branch conditions like “Rock Campus is unknown” or “Rock Campus is Downtown.”
Texting Laws in the U.S.
Purpose of SMS Laws and Guidelines - We all hate receiving unwanted, unsolicited text messages. There are federal laws and carrier rules that seek to help prevent that from happening. The federal law is called the TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act). More crucial are the carrier rules and regulations set by the CTIA (The Wireless Association).
TCPA (The Federal Law) - The Telephone Consumer Protection Act was initially created in 1991 by the FCC to protect U.S. consumers from communications spam - think calls and faxes. It was updated in 2013 to include texting. The major points that matter to a church or nonprofit:
Prior express opt-in consent - You can't just assume members/customers in your organization to be opted-in to receive text messages from you. They must have given you clear written or electronic consent to receive such messages.
Non-profit Safe Harbor Exemptions - However, the TCPA provides Safe Harbor exemptions for non-profits - a call or text made by a tax-exempt nonprofit is not considered a 'telephone solicitation.'" This is a vital component of the TCPA for churches wanting to communicate with their people via text.
How does Clearstream handle this? Even though there are Safe Harbor exemptions for nonprofits, we still require your church to have permission to contact people you might be syncing or importing into Clearstream. If people are joining through a Keyword or signup form, this is irrelevant, and they are initiating opt-in. More on opt-ins in a minute…
On top of the federal law, the TCPA, set by the FCC, carriers have their own rules on how they allow texting on their networks. The CTIA (The Wireless Association) is comprised of all U.S. carriers and acts as the governing body for application-to-person texting. The CTIA Short Code Monitoring Handbook provides regularly updated rules and guidelines for application to person (your church texting your people) texting.
Additionally, the TCR (The Campaign Registry) is a recently created organization that handles registration for 10-digit local numbers engaged in application-to-person texting in the U.S.
Following the rules below are critical to ensuring your texting programs run smoothly on all carrier networks, and not having to worry about message delivery. The core components of the CTIA rules that pertain to churches:
Opt-in compliance - Opt-in messages must identify who is sending the message (the brand, or in this case, your church name), content description, customer care contact information, opt-out instructions, or message frequency. Clearstream automatically handles all this for you.
Opt-out compliance - "Message Senders should include opt-out information in the call-to-action, terms and conditions, and opt-in confirmation. Standardized “STOP” wording should be used for opt-out instructions. However, opt-out requests with normal language (i.e., stop, end, unsubscribe, cancel, quit, “please opt me out”) should also be read and acted upon by a Message Sender, except where a specific word can result in unintentional opt-out. The validity of a Consumer opt-out should not be impacted by any de-minimis variances in the Consumer opt-out response, such as capitalization, punctuation, or any letter-case sensitivities." - this comes from the CTIA compliance handbook. While this basic compliance is built-in with Clearstream, we also help assist with ‘opt-out intent’, which while not legally required, can help tremendously when running large SMS campaigns.
Opt-Out Intent within Clearstream - As noted above, correct opt-out mechanisms is a core component of carrier compliance. Carriers understandably want to make sure consumers can easily opt-out of messages from organizations. The standard requirement is to have always available keywords such as stop, cancel, quit, unsubscribe, and end.
But what if someone replies to a message saying "Hey, I've moved and don't attend your church anymore. Can you take me off your list?" Or maybe they reply with "Stop. You're making me laugh too hard!" We've developed our own opt-out intent AI classification model 🤖 to determine opt-out intent for incoming texts. This means we're able to catch and accurately determine clear opt-out requests that aren't the typical "STOP" messages. What does it mean for you? Not having to manage opt-out requests on your own.
Navigating laws and guidelines for texting in your church can be tricky. As you can see, Clearstream handles nearly all of it for you.
General Best Practices When Texting
Now that we’ve covered the legalities and carrier compliance side of things, what about best practices when doing any kind of texting in your church? Here are some tips for ensuring a lower opt-out rate, higher engagement with your people, and good message deliverability with carriers - yes, carriers have spam filters, which you don’t want your messages being caught by!
Use branded URLs. - This is a big one for not getting caught by carrier spam filters. If you need to include a link in your text, use a branded URL (like your church website). If you want to shorten your URL, stay away from public shorteners like bit.ly. We conveniently provide a branded URL shortener for you in Clearstream.
For most use cases, we recommend sending 1-2 messages per week max to your main church-wide List. For communicating with small groups like scheduling, that of course doesn't apply.
Keep the wording human - No one enjoys a spammy-worded text message. A simple way to gauge this: try reading your message out loud before sending.
Send messages during normal hours: 8am-8pm - There are of course instances when a message needs to be delivered outside this window, but generally it's best to stick to these hours.
Stay away from using lots of punctuation and line breaks - Make it concise and easy to read.
Reply to incoming responses - When you send your message, you'll typically receive replies. All replies go into your Inbox. You can reply back to people from your Inbox. Tip: make sure you have email and push notifications enabled in your settings so you can know when you receive an incoming message.
Best Practices for Implementing Texting in Rock
Keep your Rock database clean - Our integration assumes that your Rock database is the “source of truth,” which means you should try to keep names and phone numbers accurate, as much as possible.
Don’t text your entire church without permission - You should make sure you have received permission from the people you are texting.
Let Clearstream handle most keywords, especially if you expect high volume - In Clearstream, you can easily build out complex keyword workflows that will perform at scale. Depending on the performance of your Rock servers, your SMS Pipelines might not be able to keep up and deliver auto responses in a timely manner.
Use Clearstream’s inbox and native mobile apps - Our inbox is easy to use, and with our native iOS and Android apps, you can respond to questions and prayer requests in a timely manner, which people expect when texting.
Number Options: Short codes and 10-digit numbers
Quick tl;dr Summary
Short codes are the most expensive option, but the easiest for church members to engage with, and the fastest way to text by a significant margin. In terms of performant messaging at scale, short codes stand alone. They also have the best deliverability.
Long codes (10-digit local numbers) are a much more affordable option that are quicker to setup and connect with wireless carriers. Local numbers aren’t as memorable as short codes, and have a slower delivery rate, but they are a viable option for smaller-scale texting on a budget (a few hundred to a couple of thousand people). Your numbers will be fully registered with carriers (A2P DLC), but you may still experience some level of filtering by carriers.
What about toll-free? While you can setup a toll-free number in Clearstream, expect to wait 3-4 weeks for carriers to approve your number. After it’s approved, you’ll see lower than short code or A2P message throughput of about 10 messages per second. We typically don’t recommend toll-free numbers for churches as they can appear impersonal.
What are short codes?
Short codes are 5-or-6-digit carrier-approved numbers for two-way-enabled mass texting, and are the best option for high-message-throughput, reliable, non-carrier-filtered, emoji/multilingual-supported, two-way mass texting.
All short codes in the U.S. are leased with the Short Code Registry. You can lease numbers on a quarterly, semi-annual, or annual basis, but you don't own them. At Clearstream, as opposed to other providers, we create a Short Code Registry account for your church and give you admin rights to your account. This gives you more control over your short code, as well as billing transparency. Most providers do not give access to the Short Code Registry account where your short code is stored.
With Clearstream, the setup and carrier approval time for a new short code is 2-3 weeks. With Twilio, it can be 4-8 weeks. Clearstreamʼs carrier approval timeline is much shorter than other providers because we've streamlined our process specifically for churches.
Importantly, we're a vetted Premiere Partner with the Short Code Registry.
What is the cost of leasing a new short code?
There are two types of short codes- Random and Select. All short codes in the U.S. are controlled by and leased from the Short Code Registry, which sets the price of all U.S.-based short codes.
Random 5-digit short codes cost $500/mo. Random short codes are five randomly generated numbers, which you cannot choose. i.e. - 52398.
Select 5-digit short codes cost $1,000/mo. Select short codes can be chosen by you and aren't randomly generated. Hereʼs a tool to create your own short code number or see whatʼs available.
What's the entire cost to use a dedicated short code?
$500 or $1,000/mo: short code lease fee charged by the Short Code Registry for leasing either a Random (generated for you) or Select (you choose your number) short code.
$1,100: one-time wireless carrier setup fee for a new short code. Clearstream passes this on to you without any additional charges.
Any messages and platform fees with your SMS application provider. With Clearstream, you can use any of our monthly plans, which give you a set amount of monthly message credits. You can upgrade or downgrade at any time, and there is no contract.
Customer support fees: Clearstream provides chat, email, and phone/Zoom call support free for all customers.(Twilio, for comparison, has tiered customer support plans ranging from limited free to $5K/mo.)
In most cases, SMS providers upcharge to host and manage your short code. For example, Twilio typically charges an additional $500/mo "connection fee." 💡Clearstream charges no additional short code hosting or management fees. This means you'll pay substantially less per month with Clearstream.
When should your church use a short code?
Short codes are the single best option for mass, large-scale texting. Why? Short codes are approved by carriers, have the least amount of issues with filtering, and are the gold standard for ultra-high message throughput. If you use Clearstream, you can expect throughput to be around 300 messages per second. (Thatʼs 3X faster than Twilioʼs 100 mps.)
Short codes are also significantly easier for your congregation to text into as opposed to a 10-digit local number. For example, imagine the two numbers below showing on your screen during service. Which call to action is easier to input into a mobile device when sending a text?
New here? Text Join to 94000
New here? Text Join to (580) 309-5902
One is demonstrably easier than the other. However, Clearstream also offers local A2P 10DLC numbers.
When should your church use an A2P 10DLC local number?
A2P 10DLC is a registration process required by carriers when using 10-digit local numbers for mass texting. It sounds boring, but it's very important. With Clearstream, all your numbers are registered for A2P with no additional cost. A2P registration increases your message throughput and deliverability and significantly decreases carrier filtering of your messages. Every Clearstream account, including each subaccount in your plan, comes with a registered A2P 10DLC number.
While short codes are the single best option for texting, they're also significantly more expensive than local numbers. If your budget won't allow for a dedicated short code, using a 10-digit local phone number is your best option. The only cost you will incur if you set up a 10-digit number in Clearstream is the cost of your monthly plan.
The downside of local numbers is they have lower message throughput than short codes, and lower delivery rates. You also may experience carrier filtering (with some carriers) when sending links in your texts or any content that get flagged by their spam filtering.
How do I setup a short code?
If you're ready to setup a dedicated short code with Clearstream, start by filling out this short form (we'll use this information for creating your Short Code Registry account and connecting your new short code with wireless carriers).
Once you know how often you want to communicate and to how many people, your church is ready to create a game plan for texting. Be sure to use a trusted and reliable texting platform that not only works well with Rock, but also has the capabilities your church needs. With Clearstream, regardless of your church size, you'll have the fastest message throughput, 5 and 10-digit texting number options, affordable pricing plans, and multiple ways to integrate with Rock RMS. If you have any questions, or if you'd like to schedule a Zoom call with our team, we'd love to talk!