Your Church, the Wifi Sharer

January 23, 2008 by

The geek world has been abuzz lately regarding Ars Technica’s look at the ethics of stealing wifi. At Church Marketing Sucks, we don’t make too much of an effort to be arbiters of morality. But we would love to be proponents of ideas.

How about opening your church up?

These days, there’s more to being welcoming to visitors than putting “Welcome” on your church sign. Shoot, it even goes beyond having official “greeters.”

What if your church had the sweetest wifi in the town, some really comfy chairs and a few friendly faces? How great would it be to have folks normally hostile to “church” be able to say, “I’m gonna go hang out at the church and get some work done.”

As a connoisseur of fine seating (ENO and Love Sac, if you’re wondering) and a constant searcher for the perfect coffee shop, I can tell you this: if I found somewhere with good coffee or sweet tea, open spaces and comfy chairs, I’d be there in a heartbeat. Folks lucky enough to work at home, thankful as they should be, need to get away sometimes.

So bump up your Internet speed, get some decent coffee, sweet tea or pastries, and invite folks on in. This is the 21st century. Maybe it’s time that the church is a friend for the friendless, a home for the homeless and an office for the officeless.

Post By:

Joshua Cody

Josh Cody served as our associate editor for several years before moving on to bigger things. Like Texas. These days he lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, and you can find him online or on Twitter when he's not wrestling code.
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13 Responses to “Your Church, the Wifi Sharer”

  • Andrew
    January 23, 2008

    My church had open wifi for a while. They put a lock on it [WEP key] after they found out some people had been using it to look at pornography. I don’t necessarily think that one person should be able to ruin it for the rest of us but I can see where the church is coming from.

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  • Garrett
    January 23, 2008

    AHHHH. No. I’d recommend churches stay far far away from open wireless. Unless you’re willing to invest in Websense or the like the liability is just to great. Can you imagine the negative PR resulting from a incident.
    Let private enterprise take care of this one, unless you’re going to fork over some serious cash.

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  • Shane
    January 23, 2008

    I like the idea, but I echo the concerns above. Most routers will allow you to pre-populate the browser before it connects (see: most airports). Maybe some sort of legalese there could protect your church.
    It might make sense for ours because we’re in a heavy residential area, but I imagine that we’d have to beef up the speed pretty heavy as surrounding houses hogged our bandwidth.

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  • brad
    January 23, 2008

    That was my instant thought too. I think the church can and should redeem the internet. But enabling all the negatives of the internet with no input would be rather unfortunate. That could be handled by making it more accountable and less anonymous.
    The location and structure of our building would make this unfeasible (no bright and airy available spaces). I perceive that the neighbourhood would find very limited value in wi-fi (not a high-tech concentration). And my relationship with the church building would make me uncomfortable to do work there (I like to keep those two separate). But perhaps this could work if it was a local social enabler.

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  • geoffreybrown
    January 23, 2008

    I’m going to suggest it at our church. I provide the IT support to a local public library, and we keep the wifi wide open 24×7 there with no incidents at all in the three years we’ve been doing so.
    Also, while I do understand that the internet is a wild and wooly place, I am not really sure what kind of “incident” you are anticipating. Hopefully your premises has a modicum of supervision, especially of young people. You might consider posting signs asking your visitors to be sensitive to the fact that they are in a church and to use the internet accordingly when using it at your facility.

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  • Malcolm
    January 23, 2008

    The church that we just moved from, got all the hardware & software donated from a guy in our church that owned an IT consulting company that we needed for us to have free wifi.
    It was great because we got listed with JiWire… and when you searched for free wifi, we were one of only three free wifi hotspots in our city and it actually brought people into the church and our coffee house.
    It had a web interface for people to log into and we printed the login in our bulletins, our website, at our coffee house, etc.

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  • Stuart
    January 23, 2008

    Sorry to report but nothing new here folks …
    This was raised by Barry over at Church IT Help blog under the heading DIY WIFI Hotspot( back in September last year.
    He recommends the use of ZoneCd which utilises DansGuardian Content Filter for creating public wifi hhotspots that can be open or closed and filterable.
    I only wish my pastor would see the bigger picture on this and allow me to do just this.

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  • Jonathan
    January 24, 2008

    For sanitation purposes, you don’t have to spend a bunch of money. I’d recommend trying the following solution: configure the router to use the free service. You can set up a profile there and use it to block adult content. So that part doesn’t really concern me.
    However, I would warn people that there are security concerns with open wifi (where someone could be sitting in a house next door and sniffing the traffic). Discourage accessing email via a desktop mail client that sends your password in the clear, encourage people to access webmail via a secure https connection, etc.

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  • Josh Nunn
    January 25, 2008

    Yeah, filters are a pretty big necessity
    I’ve heard of a church that had an open network, and someone used it to transfer child pornography, and the feds came knocking on the church’s door.
    but yeah as far as coffee shop style setup is concerned, im all for it, I’d love to do that here. this town doesnt really cater to the college students, so something like that would be great here.

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  • Cameron
    January 26, 2008

    I find it interesting that the first thing Christians seem to do when discussing providing Internet service in any way shape or form is how to stop people accessing pornography. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not encouraging anyone accessing porn. I do have a few concerns, though.
    First, and I don’t say this lightly, so what if they’re accessing porn on our wifi? No, really. It probably feels wrong that we allow it, but if they access porn is it really our problem? The only real problem is that other people may be offended by what they inadvertently view on other people’s machines. Fine: if people don’t use the service in a publicly appropriate way, they lose access to the service, or at least access to the premises.
    Second, for all the marketing that goes into filtering software, it’s not normally that difficult to bypass. Even if it does work as advertised, there will always be problems with false positives. For example, it’s not uncommon for filters blocking, say, porn sites to block legitimate sex education sites. The rules governing the filtering can be changed easily enough, but how does somebody walk up to an administrator and ask for their favourite sex ed site to be opened up? Think of the embarrassment!
    Third, who decides what can and can’t be accessed? Who decides if drug users can or can’t have access to information about cleaning needles? Who decides whether or not teenagers can access information regarding contraception? Who decides whether married couples can order ‘marital aids’ over the Internet? These are all perfectly legitimate uses for the technology, but there are many churches who would baulk at allowing them. Yet why should we set ourselves up as censors?
    The Internet is about the free dissemination of information. Some people use it for less than noble reasons. I understand that. But I don’t think we have the right to set ourselves up as the judges of whether or not other people’s communication is up to our standards or not. Do we censor every piece of mail that comes in or out of the church’s mail service? Do we monitor every phone call for worthiness?
    I don’t know what the law is like in the US, but here in Australia public libraries cannot filter Internet access. There are very few problems with people accessing things they shouldn’t. It’s nowhere near as bad as people might think.
    As for the person mentioned above who used the church’s Internet access to transfer child porn, he would have done it from somewhere else. This sort of thing is trivially easy, even with filters. It’s also trivially easy to cover your tracks, so he would have been caught anywhere else too! (And if the feds come knocking, great! This Internet thing’s getting all sorts of people in the door!)
    Having said all of this, I realise that no matter what anyone says, it’s going to come down to whatever your church board decides. That, of course, is a whole different issue!

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  • Dave
    January 31, 2008

    Our coffee shop downstairs has free, open, wifi. Comfy seats, cafe style tables, TV if you want it. Great place to do business, read, surf, or blog.

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  • Brad @ New Life
    October 3, 2011

    We are launching a new church – I’d like to set up an “in sanctuary” only WiFi that gives folks access to just the landing page (that will have sermon presentations, notes, bible search features, pics, supportive video, etc) that are all resident on a sole PC. Can you guys suggest an commerical or open source HotSpot software that will work in a Windows environment (low cost)?

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