The WiFi Enabled Church

airport_extreme_base_90x801.jpg Someone asked me last week about WiFi in the church. Its a great question, and i believe that it will change the way of teaching in traditional churches over the next few years. It may also affect house churches, since much of the new growth in wifi will be in the homes.

The first church I attended with WiFi was the Gamagori Community Church in Japan, where they had me preach in 2002. The signal (coming from an apple airport like the one pictured) was all over the church but no one was on-line during the service. This will change soon. And this is how i predict it will happen:

1. A church installs a WiFi transmitter, probably because they want wireless access to the internet for their staff who are in multiple offices.

2. It gets left on during the weekend. Young people and professionals, always searching for a wifi signal, discover that they can connect during church.
BTW, i use MacStumbler while i drive – the program beeps me when i drive through a Wifi zone and it tells me all i need to know about that signal. (I only WiFi at traffic lights – never when i drive. . . . well . . not any more, anyway). I am awaiting the day when someone will invent a watch that detects WiFi.

3. During the Sunday service, people arrive early to get the best seats – those next to a power outlet. Some church members think they are taking notes from the ministers sermon. Others know better.

4. The minister decides that instead of banning wifi usage during the teaching, he (or she) should actually take advantage of the technology. The minister uploads files related to the message, creates journeys of discovery and learning for the technologically advantaged to follow (to stop them digressing from the message)

5. The minsister creates a public folder on his or her computer with resources related to the message.

6. If the WiFi warriors are too much of a distraction, a special room is created in the back. In the meantime, the techies are sharing space in the crying room or the hall way, both of which will need more power sockets. But if it is not allowed in the sanctuary, why not have a dedicated space . . and with coffee, comfortable chairs and tables. Tables will allow people to track the teaching as a group – thus preventing people going off to read movie reviews or download games.

7. The minister decides that since so many people are tracking with him in his message, he finds a way to allow the congregation to make comments, suggest links to other Bible passages, or put up prayer requests, all in real time. If powerpoint is too static, a program that allows a message to be posted to the internet and commented on would work better (a modified blog????)

8. Some of the men come back to church. They can listen to the message and do whatever they need to do online at the same time – this will include making notes, changing schedule, looking up websites. This already happens at some churches with old media – such as notebooks, journals, diaries, etc – no reason why it would not happen with new media.

9. House churches can track with other house churches in real time through video conferencing, and they can also post prayer requests and announcements for other house churches.

10. House churches within a few miles of each other can share the same signal through directional transmitters which are quite cheap.

Of course Wifi phones are already available so maybe it will not look as obtrusive as i have outlined.
All in all, traditional church gets a lot more interactive, men return, and churches become known among geeks and professionals as WiFi or non-WiFi enabled.
Guess which one I would choose?

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

34 Comments

  • Thanks for your insights. My brain is racing with possible ways to incorporate WiFI into what we do. But I am putting the cart before the horse. I think my first challenge will be getting some of our more traditional folks to embrace the technology and not view it as a distraction at best, or at worst opening the door to the devil’s playground right in the midst of their sanctuary. Either way it’s gonna be fun.

  • A very intriguing idea. Like a modern tech conference – only in church.
    However, I guess I have a different view of what a church service is. I don’t view it like a conference that I go to where maybe I can learn something I didn’t know before. And in the mean time I can get some other work done.
    For me, it goes way back to the “why do we close our eyes when we pray?” concept. We do that so we can focus; so we aren’t distracted by the dandruf on the lady sitting in front of us — so we’re not distracted by what we see. In a church service, we gather to worship God. Teaching is a part of it, but not point of it. We’re not there to learn, we’re there to worship.
    Don’t get me wrong, worship can (and does–and should) happen in every aspect of life. I can worship by brushing my teeth. So, I can also worship when I surf the internet. But gathering together with others for worship is a time that is set apart for worship. But if I bring in everything that is part of my daily life, then it is no longer “set apart.” It is no longer holy.

  • I agree with kevin on this. Worship should be set apart, holy. I guess that in order to be reverent in worship, and engaging with our teaching, the two might be seperated in the future. I know that my mind constantly wonders during modern, linear teaching, and that possibly the wifi might be more interactive (especially with the modified blog). Is it a necessity to have preaching in a worship service, and is it necessary to have worship in a teaching time?

  • technically my church is already wi-fi enabled… not that too many folks in the church would know what to do with it… plus anyone with any sense of tradition (i.e. in my community that would be mostly african americans and latino immigrants) will balk at people being on their computers DURING CHURCH… on the other hand i’m ready to try

  • I guess it wouldn’t do much good to mention that having worship services (as opposed to gatherings for teaching and equipping) is not a NT concept…or would it? Check your bibles and you’ll see that the NT makes no mention of having praise & worship in coporate gatherings. Did they sing? I think so. Did they spend an hour on it and call it a worship service? I don’t think so.
    I think this is a fantastic idea, Andrew. At the Off the Map Roadshow, I used WiFi for the first time, and loved it. It wasn’t exactly church, but the learning parallels are clear.
    I can see kind of a 21st century Bereanism becoming possible – if a preacher refers to an article, people can find the article while he’s talking and check it out for themselves. I do agree that there’s not much point to using WiFi during P&W times, as it would be a distraction (though some would argue that there’s not much point to P&W times! ;).
    I think this also respects the fact that people are intellegent enough to be critical consumers of information. Maybe the reason men are missing from churches is that they’re tired of being told what to do from the pulpit.
    This also brings us another question: If people are getting distracted by their surfing during a sermon, is the sermon really worth listening to? Some people are easily distractable, and if so they should probably avoid bringing computers. But the average person will pay enough attention and know when to tune in and tune out.

  • i think of the people i know who make grocery lists during church. not much different from the high tech stuff. hm-m-m.

  • Maybe churches that are serious about this could have some computers already there for people who can’t afford computers. It would be a rare church that would be able to meet the demand of computers. And I’m not sure that’s the best way to spend the church’s money in the first place.
    Anyway I think the strength of this idea rests in the interactivity. It can also help people to connect to one another online outside of Sunday. If the church is wired effectively then maybe conversations started on Sunday can actually continue on a website forum throughout the week, people can dig in to scripture more, all that. As long as it doesn’t create some kind of division along the lines of “those computer people” and everyone else.
    Just have to make sure there are no kiddies playing Counterstrike in the corner. 🙂

  • Church.co.uk centre is WiFi enabled as you know, Andrew, and I hope it will take me for a test-drive later this morning. I’m excited by the possibilities of all that, though still only cautiously optimistic about the church growth possibilities (both in maturity and numbers) without more foundational change.
    My question: if we can’t make church services work when we have no new media, will the addition of new media actually alter the success or failure-rate of our approach? While I know the medium of new media changes the very way we think (our heads) does it change the core of us (our hearts)?
    I’m deliberately asking the question in an overly pessimistic way in order to stimulate a creative dialogue. I hope the future includes interactive polls, corporate worship link-ups, multi-directional conversation and debate, internet stimulus, webcasts and a whole lot more. 😉

  • Tall Skinny Kiwi–
    First time commenter, blogging newbie here. Am much edified by your blog & thoughts. Thanks for this!
    Having said that, I hate for my first comment to be pessimistic/ negative. But I really do wonder about the fruitfulness of WiFi for corporate worship & teaching times. Others have pointed out the economic factor. I just don’t see how sitting in a common space but interacting through screens rather than face-to-face is going to be further edifying. I know that electronic media can create community, but interactive digital space shouldn’t replace physical space.
    We’re incarnational beings; e-mail, blogs, web sites are all abstracting phenomena. They separate, at some level, mind and body. I can “be” a woman, a child, a redhead, a Latino, or a Canadian online. But my body is an Anglo male USAmerican pastor.
    While I fully support and am genuinely excited about the possibilities of digital community, I see that as being supplemental to , not a replacement for, physical community.
    I mean no offense, nor do I claim to have all the answers, and I feel badly making my first comment a wet blanket. It’s said with a lot of humility and appreciation for what you’re doing.
    Peace.

  • Evers-
    You make a good point, but that’s already a problem in most big-church events. There’s no room for interaction, but not because of wifi – because one person is talking from the front and everyone else is listening. The idea is that maybe they could do something more fruitful while listening. They can still get up and talk at appropriate times.
    I don’t think the “digital divide” will be that much of a problem 1)because we don’t have very diverse churches, which is a separate problem altogether; and 2)because people who don’t have computers won’t be missing anything. I wouldn’t want to blog during church unless I was a regular blogger anyway. So the low-tech people can still make grocery lists or journal or take sermon notes or whatever.
    Having said that, I think a paradigm of a “learning party” is a good way forward as an alternative to sit-n-listen teaching. Wifi put to good use, too.

  • Hi everyone. This is Andrew here. I have enjoyed your comments. This is really helpful. Here is some response to your comments that i hope will push the conversation forward.
    1. Many churches will be getting WiFi signals with or without their permission. I was in a coffee shop the other day and noticed that my computer was picking 3 different WiFi signals. A downtown church under a WiFi cloud might already have a number of signals – just as they have phone covergte – and if the technology increases its coverage, then it will be quite common and not even a choice for churches “under the cloud”.
    2. I have been taking notes from sermons in my organizer/planner since 1988. Not only notes, but also having access to the calender, planning tools, etc. Now I use my computer because once I type something, I never have to type it again – just copy and paste into different programs.
    I am not alone.
    When I enter a church, I am looking for power sockets and checking for signals. Not for the worship time – that is a time to close the computer and my eyes, but for the teaching and response to it.
    3. People have been using electronic research tools while I preaching since the 1980’s. When I was an Associate Pastor in Vancouver Washington (late 80’s), one of our members had invented a Bible reference tool called Gramcord and he used it to constantly check the Greek.
    Today, with WiFi, a notebook, and the Almight Google, people are 10 seconds away from anything. In other words, you read a quote from St Francis from the pulpit and, if someone is online, they can find and download the entire thing before you finish the quote. Or watch a QT movie, or comment back on the quote.
    4. RE: Kids playing games. They can already do it. With N-Gage phones they can even be playing against each other across the sanctuary. But it is obvious what they are doing. Those using computers could be either checking the Hebrew word for something the pastor just said, or they could be playing Unreal Tournament. Hard to tell. But I am sure the joystick will give them away.
    5. I dont see churches putting computers in their sanctuary to enhance the teaching. People will bring their own (or use phones/PDAs)But i do see a radical change in the way we teach and preach and they way in which people will no longer passively listen but will involve themselves in the learning process.
    Already I have shifted from preaching to digital storytelling (when i am allowed) where people can sometimes choose which path the story moves in. And i imagine that churches who use Wifi to their advantage will project on the wall a large image of the message and its navigation. People can follow where the teacher/preacher is going but they could also diverge into looking up supplmental Bible verses or to write comments or prayer requests, from their notebooks.
    Obviously we will see this happen in conference settings on a large scale before it is common in churches.
    We have a WiFi station in our house and all conferences and training events that happen here will offer on-line access. Which is one reason why I think house churches and churches that meet informally on couches and in coffee shops will pick up the technology fastest.
    The slowest? Probably not the really traditional churches – since they are usually quite open to new ideas – but probably the kind of contemporary churches that turn down the house lights for their service and dont encourage any interaction.

  • Great discussion! I first started wrestling with the idea of wifi in churches a few weeks ago after reading about a US church making attempts to be proactive in their use. Forgive the link to myself, but my response is here. To summarize that post, God deserves my complete attention and it seems like wifi distracts from that.
    I’m still thinking through it all though, struggling as the issue of wifi in church makes me re-examine core beliefs. Thanks for a great post!

  • hey – thanks for the link! Great to see other people are giving this thought.
    If we see wifi and an appropriate trail of resources as a way to enhance the teaching (rather than imagine church members are downloading QT trailers of Lethal Weapon XII), then we could examine the impact that has already happened in the old media world – people bringing journals and organizers to church so that they can take notes, write poetry, prioritize their schedule in the light of the church announcments, bring out the Greek to go further than the pastor’s teaching. These things are already going on . . . the question, as i see it, is NOT whether to allow interactivity, but how to guide it.

  • It was interesting to read the commentary on Richard and Alan’s blogs. Many of the commenters came from a very preacher-centered mindset where the preacher is to be trusted above all; the wifi paradigm upsets this authority paradigm.
    Andrew, as I came back at various points to read through the comments, I’m impressed with your analysis of the situation. Urban realities are not always comprehensible to those in suburban, church-on-five-acres contexts where the only wifi people could pick up would be church-originated. Thanks for explaining that.
    If we start another housechurch in our apartment, people will be able to pick up 5 wifi signals, not including our (currently) non-wireless network. We have two computers, and when our friends come over, someone is almost always on one of them, even though everyone has their own computer at home. It doesn’t stifle the conversation or alienate us; it helps people fade in and out of various conversations as they will, though this takes a certain amount of trust and tact, and it works because we have established relationships.

  • I volunteer on a technology team at our church.
    To prepare for the April 3, 2004 introduction of a new “Wireless service”, I just finished implementing an approprate infrastructure. It will dynamically handled translation of IP addresses for anyone who shows up with Static IP addresses and/or proxy servers setup without forcing anyone to reconfigure. It will automatically redirect everyone’s home page (only while at church) to a welcome portal for “today’s service”. Initially that portal contains links within a “walled garden” of topical connections both on inside web servers and outside Internet links. It will also allow a link to activate full Internet access. We might (or might not) time the portal to be dynamic so that the full access is controlled. Intra-wireless connections are blocked to protect anyone who connects without personal firewall protection.
    Only one of six services (the late Saturday night one) will feature the invitation to bring your own laptop or PDA to join in.
    During church conferences and other times, the Wi-Fi will be very helpful as well.
    Here is a link that currently shows a short annnouncement about this new service.
    http://www.gccwired.com/series/services/index.html

  • Gee Tom . . only ONE of your 6 services will feature wifi interaction? oh well. at least you have a walled tropical . . i mean topical garden.
    no – actually thats quite impressive, and i just took a look at your web site – good stuff!! The cafe style church is ideal for making use of Wifi – tables and chairs and coffee, i assume.
    Well done. thanks for figuring out all the techie stuff – i imagine that many people will be taking note of what you guys have done.

  • First Wi-Fi service was a success!
    http://www.gccwired.com/community_update/CurrenteNews/wireless.htm
    Saturday’s new 7:30 “late night” service at Granger Community Church (GCC) seemed right in step with the Crazy Church series theme. True, there are few things about any GCC service that might be called “normal,” as Senior Pastor Mark Beeson reminded attendees. But this particular service made a larger stamp on that promise.
    Instead of long rows of chairs filling the auditorium, a neatly placed crescent of round tables and chairs buffered the rear half of the room. Seated at the tables were an assortment of folks who snacked, sipped beverages and focused on computer screens of every size. Cyber fans logged into the key element that makes the Saturday 7:30 p.m. service different from all others: wireless Internet access.
    It’s called WiFi–and it’s one of the fastest growing trends with today’s Internet users. This very localized computer network allows attendees to go online using wireless adapters for their laptop and hand-held computers, as well as their PDAs. A special Web site provides additional resources through an electronic version of Granger Notes. “Hot links” instantly connect the user to more in-depth information on designated topics (seen in the footnotes of the printed Granger Notes).
    “This is a pretty cool way to do church,” happily noted one twenty-something WiFi user at the service.
    Many other public hotspots–places where people congregate like hotels, convention centers, airports and restaurants–have led the way in providing wireless Internet access for patrons. But GCC is one of the nation’s first church venues to offer this service.
    “After many hours of research and investigation, we found a practical, cost-effective solution for our wireless needs,” notes Jason Powell, GCC’s Director of Technology. “We’re using a patented technology that ensures that virtually everyone gets easy access to the network, no matter what type of computer the’re using or how it is configured. It’s fast, simple and hassle-free.”
    Powell set up an information station just outside the auditorium doors to dispense any tech support or encouragement that visitors needed. He noted that things went very well for the premier use of the wireless Internet service at GCC.
    “It was awesome,” Powell concluded. And that pretty much mirrors the outlook of most who keep coming back to this “Crazy Church.”

  • I like the thought of technololgy being used to further God’s Kingdom and spread the Word. I think that a dedicated separate area for techno nerds would be my first call. God can use anything in anyone’s hand to spread His message. I say let’s try it and see what happens.
    Andrew I think you might want to start thinking about an E-Church. You’re the man!

  • I like the thought of technololgy being used to further God’s Kingdom and spread the Word. I think that a dedicated separate area for techno nerds would be my first call. God can use anything in anyone’s hand to spread His message. I say let’s try it and see what happens.
    Andrew I think you might want to start thinking about an E-Church. You’re the man!

  • I was just imagining how Wifi could impact the church. After reading this my mind is running wild. I’m not sure how ready we are here in Malaysia for this. But, it’s perfectly fine to have some imagination … and who knows what “actions” might happen from there on …

  • The First Church of 802.11

    The TallSkinnyKiwi posted a great idea for a church that is Wi-Fi enabled… that is a church with wireless internet/network capabilities. I’d like to add some additional observations. This approach in a new church start would also be just the ticket, …

  • The First Church of 802.11

    The TallSkinnyKiwi posted a great idea for a church that is Wi-Fi enabled… that is a church with wireless internet/network capabilities. I’d like to add some additional observations. This approach in a new church start would also be just the ticket, …

  • God does TrackBack.

    You know something is succesful when others try to co-opt it for religious purposes. Look at rock, hip-hop, teenage magazines, text messages, cartoons, pseudo-science and the education system. Well, wi-fi has finally had that blessing: wi-fi in church….

  • Andrew back again – after many months. This blog posting has got a lot of milage . .. hasnt it?
    Since posting it in Feb, there have been some changes in the ways people use WiFi. One of the biggest is this;
    – We create our own WiFi networks. I have been in meetings where there are multiple local networks set up during the meeting. I have even done this myself. People use the networks for swapping files and notes and thoughts.
    It is probable that in the future, it will not be the one big WWW that people will be tapping into but rather the small personal intranets set up during the service. I say future, but we are already doing this now.

  • Ideas

    A couple of ideas for visual communcations, interactivity and just plain being engaged while in the midst of a fellowship of believers: Enable Text-Message-To-Screen in Church Service Enable WiFi at Church Both ideas found on Andrew Jones’ blog (TallSk…

  • The Wi-Fi Enabled Church

    Is your church connected? Many churches are now experimenting with wi-fi (wireless computer networks) to offer online access to sermon notes and service notes LIVE. Here’s how it works, according to Andrew Jones of TallSkinnyKiwi.com: 1. A church inst…

  • If all a church service is, is simply a seminar, ie, listening to a message, then why not?
    But if a church service is a time to join together for corporate worship of the Almighty God of the universe, then I think your scenario is waaaaay off base.

  • thanks tulip girl
    i see interactive participarory worship being enhanced by WiFi much more than the message, although it works for both.
    Are you assuming that God is only accepting old media gifts of worship and is refusing to accept gifts of worship in new media format?
    If He is open to new media worship and praise, and I believe He is, then I would expect God to be quite happy to have all His people offer their gifts at the same time in an act of corporate worship, as the wider Body of Christ connected by whatever technology is available at the time.
    Am I not seeing something that you see?

  • This is all incredibly interesting discussion. I wonder if churches would be receptive to donations of wifi equipment and internet access in exchange for helping spread the wifi signal (and the free internet access) to area residents.
    I’m building a community wireless network in my home town and I’m thinking of donating equipment to any churches who are interested in order to spread the signal. My goal is to create a community-owned, non-profit information network that could someday replace expensive internet connections as well as encouraging community-spirit and better communication ammong neighbors.
    I think that churches could be the key to spreading my network. The community benefit from having a free network in at least some neighborhoods. The churches that participate could benefit from having the technology and bandwidth provided for free allowing them to do what everyone here has been discussing.
    Am I far off base here? Oppenions are reatly appreciated.
    My main challange is how to approach the churches with the idea. I don’t want anyone to think that I’m trying to take advantage of the church for a business-related motive. My intentions are entirely respectible, I am motivated by a desire to better my community by spreading a benefitial technology to my friends and neighbors.
    Thanks everyone for some very interesting discussion and more inspiration in my quest to build a community wireless network. If only the churches in my area had wifi I might attend more often :).
    On a final note, I think that a lot of people will have a big problem with others geeking away at their computers during religious services. I hope that most people will see the benefits and find ways to deal with the associated problems such as distractions.
    As long as everyone acts in a respectful manner then I think wifi in church could be a very wonderful thing.

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