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:
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.
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.
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?