What Is SMS And How Did Catalyst Use It?

Last week, in my weekly column for Monday Morning Insight, I wrote about Catalyst utilizing Web 2.0 technology…

Last week, in my weekly column for Monday Morning Insight, I wrote about Catalyst utilizing Web 2.0 technology throughout the conference. My friend, Bobby Gruenewald, in his Swerve blog, revealed how they did it. Below are his words:

At Catalyst, we built several interactive elements that promoted YouVersion.com in the general sessions. All of the applications utilized sms (text messaging), and we have been receiving phone calls every day this week from people asking about how we did that and where can they get it.

Here is a quick post to describe who/what we used and explain a little bit about the technology involved, and also get ideas/feedback from all of you.

1. What is SMS?

SMS or Short Message Service (wiki) allows you to send short (160 character) messages to and from mobile phones. SMS is often referred to as texting.

2. What did you do with texting at Catalyst (for those of you who were not there)?

* Thursday morning we introduced YouVersion.com and asked that people text Bible verses (ex. Hebrews 13:17) about leadership to a 5 digit number (it’s called a shortcode). We then displayed in real-time the full verses that were submitted on the screens in the arena.

* Thursday afternoon we had people text (a,b,c or d) to the shortcode to vote on which song was their favorite reverb song. We displayed the results and the band played that song.

* Friday morning we asked people to text words that they felt described Craig’s session. It could be a word that described how it made them feel, or a words that were take away words from the session. We then displayed a tag cloud of the words people submitted at the end of the session.

* Late Friday morning we asked people to text their names or email addresses if they were committing to pursue radical integrity and grace. It was in association with the Deadly Viper book that was launched at the conference.

3. How did you do it?

We worked with OpenMarket aka simplewire.com. They have connections to many of the cell phone carriers around the world and are able to send and receive SMS messages to each of those providers. They also provided our programmers with the ability to write web applications that connect to their services. Basically we wrote an application that would save all of the text messages to a database and in some cases respond to the user with a text message that told them more about YouVersion or asked them for more information. Additionally, we built a few flash applications that would query the database and display the information I described above to the audience in the arena.

4. How much does it cost?

It does require a financial investment to do it well. It really varies based on what you are trying to do, and it would be best to call the folks at simplewire to have them help you navigate through the costs of their service.

5. How long did it take to build?

It took our talented Digerati team a little over a week to build and test the various pieces of it once we had everything setup with simplewire.

6. Why didn’t you use Twitter or another free sms application?

Twitter is great…it just would not allow us to build the types of applications we built, and it has had some reliability challenges on top of that.
I am sure there are many other questions, but those are the main ones that we have been getting. I’d be happy to answer any other questions in the comments. We have additional plans to use the technology in our weekend experiences…but instead of telling you our plans, I’d love to hear what your thoughts/ideas would be for sms applications in the church. If you are already using it, I’d love to hear about that too!

*** I (Greg) will just add the same thing: If you’re using Web 2.0 technology and doing ministry via SMS apps, I’d love to hear about it, too. I’d also love for you to join my “Church 2.0” group on Facebook HERE.


The end of Heroes last night made my heart skip a beat. Good stuff. And YES, I realize I haven’t talked about the Cowboys since they lost.