Home Software Mobile The Debate: Open vs. Closed Wi-Fi Access on Sundays

The Debate: Open vs. Closed Wi-Fi Access on Sundays

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While the Internet seems like it has been with us for ages, it only has become popular and fully integrated into our lives within the past 8-10 years. While innovation and adoption has moved at lightening speed in the business, academic, and home markets, churches are only now beginning to understand how powerful it can be with ministry and adopting it for evangelism and discipleship.

In some areas, we still are arguing about if we should be using cell phones during the Sunday service and in the same conversation could be wanting to get as many Facebook followers as Rick Warren.

One question that church tech volunteers and staff have struggled with is if they should allow access from the church to everyone that comes in. In a normal business setting, you will not have fifty to several thousand people coming into your building and therefore open access is not a problem, but for a church on Sunday morning you need to decide if you want to open up your churches wi-fi connection or simply expect them to use up some of their data (if you can even get proper cell phone service in the sanctuary).

It would seem that churches have three individual options when it comes to a wireless router:

Closed Wi-Fi

This option simply means that no one in the congregation will be using your church’s Internet.

Pros Great security solution and an IT person’s dream. This means that you do not have to pay for high-speed internet solely if the congregation is using it and therefore may be a short and long term budget-friendly solution. It also prevents any outside people from stealing Internet and ensures that the staff will have optimal Internet speeds.

Cons Do not expect many people to use their mobile devices in church if they have to rely on their own personal data plan and may have restricted service in the building. While this may be a happy solution on Sundays, it can cause numerous headaches and issues in the long run for congregation members, board meetings, youth pastors, and many others.

Password-Protected

The Internet is password-protected and presumably the password is known by some of the staff and church technology volunteers. It is presumed that the password would be given to members as long as they come and ask for it.

Pros You do not have to worry as much about security as compared to it being open. The limited access will ensure that speeds are higher than normal for all people using the service. If at any time you want to reset security for the router without much effort, you simply need to change the password. It also requires congregation members to have a face-to-face conversation with someone to get the Internet.

Cons While the Internet may be available to the congregation, many will not sign on simply because of the hassle of coming and getting the password. As with any security measure, nothing is fool-proof and the password may get lost on Sunday morning and unusable as well as you can still have Internet filtering needs after someone logs on.

Open Wi-Fi

There is no password and the Internet is wide open for use by anyone that can get online from their mobile device.

Pros Less steps between the user and the Internet invites people to use it. If you are a pro-cell phone/tablet church, this maybe the best solution so that they can Facebook share the church’s service and message or access YouVersion online and take notes. This openness inspires people to talk about your church which can be a great way to bless and evangelize to the community.

Cons This is a big security risk and you cannot simply have your Internet open for anyone to get on. If you do allow for an open wi-fi during Sunday, ensure you have proper web filters to promote healthy online activity. At the same time, letting the masses all online may significantly slow down your Internet speeds and if the church is all on one Internet plan, you can potentially impact other ministries running at the same time or the YouTube clip you wanted to show at the beginning or end of the service.

While no one solution has come to the forefront of usability for the church, there is another option out there that may churches do not realize is available to them.

Multi SSID Solution

So many of the new wireless routers actually provide you with a fourth solution that gives you the ability to do multiple options of the above solutions.

Routers like the Linksys EA3500 or the Netgear N750 offer what is called Multi SSID solutions that can let you setup an open wireless option and at the same time a password-protected solution too. There are many different reasons for wanting to do this with minimal extra setup, including maintaining wi-fi Internet speeds for church staff while still being able to offer open Internet to the rest of the congregation, setting up different Internet filtering for different wireless options (presumably more strict for the congregation), and different wi-fi can allow for network specific solutions and therefore stronger internal security. If you would like to see all of your options and weigh the features versus price versus channel support and many others, InfoTech.com has a great solution for you to compare some of the best companies and products out there that will meet your exact needs.

While we would promote the Multi-SSID solution to most churches, your unique context may require something different.

What wi-fi access do you give your congregation?

18 COMMENTS

  1. […] The Debate: Open vs. Closed Wi-Fi Access on Sundays There is big concern on how to setup a church’s wifi for Sunday use but still keep it secure. Here is one viable option. […]

  2. To add to Jason’s sage advice I would also add – ensure that whatever access is provided is also ‘managed’ in some form – call it filtering if you will.

    The obvious, easy and free (is it still free) answer for now is set your DNS to point at OpenDNS.com and set up the filtering. And as an added incentive here’s what could be done – share the password (which will change weekly or some other pre-determined length) on the slides that run pre-meeting. The incentive part being you don’t get the password if you don’t turn up on time 🙂

    I’ll also second the comments about ensuring what you provide is scaleable and fit for purpose. Open Mesh for example recommend no more than 10 to 15 users per node with a max of 20. So even if you have a modest sized church (in our case <300) then a simple bit of maths shows we'd need 20+ nodes at £60 a node – suddenly the large scale wifi mesh providers prices don't seem so bad when that is considered.

    • Can this be more easily done by just password protecting it and only giving it out to trusted members or is that too exclusive? I only ask for the churches that do not have a dedicated tech guy that can set it up, maintain it, and respond in an emergency.

  3. Here’s what I suggest to churches thinking about giving guests wifi access. DO NOT DO IT UNLESS you are prepared to provide them a great experience.
    A great experience requires a budget for gear that is not found at your local Best Buy. It requires someone who has experience with wifi implementation to design a “right sized” solution that keeps guest traffic segregated from your private network and provides appropriate client density per AP. And it requires sufficient internet bandwidth.
    If you plan to get a Linksys router from Best Buy and make that your guest wifi … please don’t unless you expect LESS than 20 people to connect to it.
    So far the most budget friendly wireless solution many of us in the Church IT Community (citrt.org) suggest is http://ubnt.com/unifi The access points can handle 50ish connections each and are priced from $80-$200 depending on the model. Bonus is that the controller software is free and installs easily on any old win/osx/linux computer.
    Again, if you’re not prepared to make it a great experience for guests don’t do it 🙂

    • I love your integrity for giving great user experience and would recommend that people do the research to find the best solution, but that’s the problem isn’t it? Their only research is going to a Best Buy official who’s job is to sell you something from their store…

  4. We use multi-SSID, including a GuestoftheDay password SSID, like a hotel or business conference would use. This is a password set up specifically for an event, concert, conference, meeting or whatever. This allows us to track usage (and limit bandwidth) based on event, while protecting our business network and bandwidth needed for normal operations and streaming.

    There is also a public password-protected SSID that is online all the time. This is used by members as they come and go on our campus. It is password-protected so DHCP access is given only for those who truly

    Our Ruckus wifi setup supports this will centralized management and very little interaction is needed. Access points throughout campus and managed through an interface in a ZoneDirector in the rack in our server room.

    I recommend Higher Ground Technologies for more information about Ruckus and it’s potential use at your church. http://www.highergroundtech.com

  5. We have password-protected wifi, with the password posted around the church. That prevents neighbors from logging in. (I’ve actually had a church neighbor call and ask for our password.) It’s used primarily for classes/meetings. People have great data plans these days, they don’t even ask for wifi.

    Anyway, ours is a 90 year old building, so getting a consistent wifi signal — or even cabling — throughout is practically impossible.

    • It is unfortunate that people will go to that bold of attempts to leech off of others… While they may have great plans, I know NUMEROUS teenagers that have iPods and need wifi or cannot use their devices.

  6. We use multi-SSID but our ‘open’ network is password protected as well. The downside of good wireless coverage was neighbors using our originally open network to download a ton of data.

    • I think that for many people, that is a wise option. For the church that is not in a residential and business neighborhood, it might be different. I have also seen churches remove the password only on Sundays, but that takes a lot of work for the IT guy to remember.

  7. Great post and certainly something churches need to consider. At KidCheck we often receive a similar question specific to children’s check-in– What is better to have a wired or wireless network?

    Here’s an article others may find helpful. http://bit.ly/XJpWjn

    It provides an easy to understand overview and explanation of Wi-Fi networks, associated caveats and considerations, plus specific actionable suggestions for testing and setting up a wireless network more effectively.

  8. This is the solution I have been looking at for our church as we think about rolling out a wireless network and internet access.

    http://www.open-mesh.com

    I like the creation of a splash screen, the ability to throttle communication, the ability to access settings remotely, etc. The price is not so bad either.

    I don’t mean this as an advertisement for that company, but just the solution that we have been talking about using.

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