Face it. Unless someone has taken the draconian step of banning electronic devices in your church, many of the attendees already have internet access. In fact, a majority of adults in North America now own smartphones. Even excluding the growth of mobile devices, we are approaching a point where internet access will be included in the same category as water, power, or natural gas. Many devices and services already require an internet connection to obtain full functionality. With that in mind, the installation of wireless internet access (Wi-Fi) on church property takes on a far more utilitarian aspect today than it might have in 2008.
Some uses for Wi-Fi fall squarely in the realm of convenience. Many churches have guest apartments and visiting speakers appreciate the ability to access a free, high speed connection with their portable computing devices. If your church has a group Bible study or “reading meeting,” the availability of online research resources can greatly enhance the study.
Other uses start to fall into a less obvious but still beneficial category. Documents such as bulletins, directories, birthday lists, schedules, and calendars can quickly accumulate. Having off-site workers save them in online storage sites like Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or Dropbox allows files to be organized and made available for reference or printing in the church office. Presenters can access video directly from the internet if they are unable to pre-load or convert from sites like YouTube. Churches are able to arrange live Skype sessions with missionaries during their prayer meeting, allowing the missionaries to hold a Q&A with the congregation.
Church sound rooms outfitted with computers also benefit from an internet connection. Software updates can be downloaded and recorded audio can be immediately uploaded. Services can be streamed live in audio or video for those who cannot attend the local meeting place.
Lastly, device size and power reductions have produced a wide range of internet connected technologies that are useful in a building or property that is only occupied for a few hours per week. Professional internet connected phone services like Ring Central or roll-your-own solutions like Google Voice, Skype, or Vonage allow a church to create a flexible phone system that is accessible even when away from the building. Contact numbers can be re-routed so that calls to the church are sent to the phones of specific individuals during certain days and hours of the week. They can also transcribe voicemails to text and message or email the information to specified numbers. While pricing will vary, these solutions can be substantially cheaper than standard phone services.
Another technology that is increasingly internet dependent is security camera systems. Security cameras are an increasingly necessary security measure at many churches. Internet enabled security systems allow authorized persons to check the video feed with either a mobile device or portable electronics like laptops. This is especially useful for areas with blind doors, like nurseries or church apartments.
Other technologies that beginning to be internet dependent are “smart” devices like thermostats, fire alarms, lighting, and security locks. These devices allow remote control and monitoring and are even capable of learning usage patterns for increased efficiency.
These are all strong arguments for the utility of on-site Wi-Fi internet, but here are some caveats. Church internet should never be “open,” that is, configured to allow anyone to access it. Create a Wi-Fi password and give it out only on request. Change it every few months, or to create a guest login that is restricted to simple internet and email usage. System wide internet filtering done at either the service provider or the router level is recommended. My next blog post will explain how to set up Open DNS on a wireless router to filter the internet on any device that connects.
So what do you think? Sound off in the comments with your opinions / ideas.