By Anna Rich, Volunteer in Mid-Atlantic Region
Text a Toastie (TaT) is an outreach activity where students text in their questions about God/Jesus/Christianity, and the chapter members deliver a delicious treat of some kind to them and answer their questions. It is easy, fun, and highly effective for having spiritual conversations on campus.
5 Benefits of Text a Toastie
1. Low Barriers to Participation.
The materials are relatively cheap and you can train your students on the fly. Anyone can show up to help out; at the very least, you can do the outreach with four students.
2. Several Roles to Fit Students' Personalities.
Whether chapter members are shy or outgoing, more logistical or more creative, there is a role to fit their varying personalities.
3. Literally Meet Participants Where They Are.
Participants chose to text and gave their questions, then chapter members meet them in their space.
4. Great Teaching Opportunities.
Participants will text in both silly and serious questions, so you’ll have a chance help your students learn how to integrate Jesus into both surface-level and theologically deep conversations.
4. Reputation Building.
TaT provides the chance to publicize InterVarsity and connect with students to whom you may not otherwise have access.
If your chapter can do a regular TaT (biweekly, once a month, whatever works for your chapter), it will allow your chapter to build relationships with repeat texters, as well as establish InterVarsity's name and reputation on campus, which can open the door to other activities: “Hey, I know InterVarsity. You guys do the toastie thing!”
Also, if you get into a regular cycle with a permanent phone number, you can order a vinyl banner instead of making new paper flyers every time, e.g., “Text a Toastie is this Thursday from 8-10pm! (555) 555-5555” with the texting details (question, flavor, location).
How to Run Text a Toastie
- Google Voice number
- Google Voice is free and will protect students and staff from having their personal phone number plastered all over campus. It also keeps the number permanent, which saves confusion and allows students to put it in their phones.
- Posters and flyers to get the word out
- A cooking surface (electric griddle, pans on a stovetop, panini press, George Foreman grill)
- Utensils (spatula, knives)
- Gloves (sanitary food preparation is important!)
- Aluminum foil (to wrap toasties for delivery)
- Post-it notes and pens
- Sharpie to label wrapped toasties
- Bibles for reference
- Cleaning supplies (Lysol wipes, paper towels, cleaning spray)
- Snacks for your own team!
Prayer Team: With any evangelistic outreach, it's important to pray before, during, and after. All students involved can be part of the prayer before and after, but if you have enough students, consider having dedicated intercessors on hand throughout the event. You could also invite local ministry partners to be the on-site intercession team.
Phone Master: This student will man the Google Voice number as texts come in. On Post-It notes, they'll write down the question, flavor, and delivery location for each order. They should also confirm each order with a text reply from the Google Voice number. If you have enough students, you can delegate some aspects to an assistant phone handler as well.
Toastie Master: Have a budding Jamie Oliver in your chapter? Or maybe just someone who's done their fair share of food service jobs? Assign them the lead on the grill. If you have enough students, set up a small assembly line with assistant toastie makers as well.
Deliverers: The delivery crew will deliver the toasties and be answering questions when they arrive. Send students out in pairs for safety and for support during spiritual conversations. For each delivery, one student could plan to answer the question, and the other could be silently interceding for the conversation or participating as well. Ideally, you'd have six deliverers, so that two pairs can be out delivering, while one pair stays on base for the next delivery.
Coach: You and/or student leaders can be on hand to discuss the questions and plan possible answers prior to delivery.
Publicity Team: Have artistically gifted students take charge of designing flyers and posting them around campus.
Week of TaT
Publicize Text a Toastie with flyers around campus; in addition to posting flyers in high-traffic areas, consider slipping a quarter-sheet flyer under every door in nearby dorms. Get your chapter on board by announcing TaT to your large group and small groups.
Set up your base(s) and assign students their roles. Pray as a whole group. Warm up the cooking surface and assemble a few toasties so you're ready to go right at 8 p.m.
As the texts start arriving, get into a groove with the Phone Master writing toastie labels with the question, flavor, and delivery location, your Toastie Master cooking, and your Deliverers talking over possible approaches to the questions. The Deliverers will take a couple of orders and go out in pairs to answer questions. Feel free to let students switch in and out of roles as desired.
Start wrapping up. After 10 p.m., text back a kind apology to incoming orders that says TaT is over for the night, but that offers some sort of alternative like a TaT-focused large group meeting or encouraging them to text earlier the next time.
Clean your base; always be kind to the people willing to let your chapter use their common room/kitchen.
Pray over the night’s work and seek the Lord on behalf of those who texted. Debrief with your students that night, or make sure they know when the debrief will happen in the near future.
Fair warning: It's not likely you'll end at 10 p.m. After clean up, prayer, and debriefing, you'll likely end up finishing around midnight.
9 Best Practices
1. Record Texted Questions
Keep a record of the questions that were asked during the outreach. This will help you discover trends and plan relevant trainings and talks. The Phone Master or their assistant could even enter questions into a Google doc as they come in.
2. Set up Base in a Dorm Common Room
Use a kitchen or common area in a dorm or other public space on campus to allow for further reach and community investment. It's common for non-Christian students to just drop by the common room and end up staying for hours asking questions, chatting with fellow students, encouraging folks to text, and even pitching in to help make toasties!
3. Set up Multiple Bases across Campus
If you have enough students to have more than one toastie base, spread them out to cover different parts of campus. One Google Voice number will still work for all bases: Have a Central Phone Master at one base who will disseminate questions to the appropriate bases via Google Chat, Google Hangout, or some other multi-user interface. This CPM should have an assistant to write the Post-It labels for texts that come in for that central base.
4. Keep Relationship Building in Mind
Make sure your students’ delivery areas include their own dorms so that they can connect with people in their “home” context. For recurring Tat outreaches, keep the same students assigned to the same locations (ex. Jack and Jill always deliver to the library and Harbin Hall) so that students have a chance to build relationships with repeat texters. This will better position them to invite their peers into deeper exploration of Jesus and into community.
5. Teach Students to Be Bold, Never Pushy
Some deliveries will be in and out because the texter doesn’t want to engage too deeply—that is okay. On the other hand, sometimes one delivery will last all night because the questions and conversation keep flowing—that is more than okay! (This is also why you should have several delivery teams.) Encourage your students to be sensitive to each person's interest and comfort level, and to check for any follow-up questions before they leave and then respond accordingly.
6. Balance Delivery Pairs for Personal Growth
Pair more spiritually mature students with less spiritually mature students. Your students should ideally always be going out in pairs for safety and for support in answering questions. Pairs are also a great way to get students who are not classic extroverts or good communicators to dip their toes in the water and build confidence.
7. Do Not Use Students’ Phone Numbers Again
Just because a texter gave their number for this outreach, that doesn't mean you have permission to contact them again. This constitutes a breach of trust and can kill the operation if people feel like you’re just trying to capture their personal information. Instead, use the face-to-face time to mention any follow-ups, parties, and so on. You can also include event flyers in your delivery.
8. Strategize How to Use TaT to Its Full Potential
Text a Toastie is originally an idea from the University of Bath in England. They invited students to “Make a Meal of It” by attending a GIG or small-group Bible study that flowed from their TaT interactions. This would be especially good for repeat texters.
Here are a few examples:
- Use TaT questions to frame large-group lessons and explorations.
- Use TaT to get the word out about future events and parties.
- Encourage your students who aren’t helping at a base to host “text ins” in their rooms: “Hey, guys, come over for cookies and hot chocolate, and we’ll do our own Text a Toastie!” Then, you’ve got a community in which spiritual conversations are a regular feature.
9. Get Creative
Try different toastie fillings each time, or have theme nights around holidays or big campus events. Use different foods: "Cupcakes for Questions," "Message-a-Milkshake," "Ping for a Popsicle"...whatever your students get excited about.
Have questions or suggestions for doing Text a Toastie? Share them in a comment below.