There are a few times every year when attendance at church spikes dramatically. Easter Sunday and Christmas always see more faces than normal. Other times, the church may be sponsoring a conference or hosting a large event. The common experience during all of these times is a large, episodic influx of visitors. This influx creates an opportunity to meet, connect with, and minister to people who are not usually in church or surrounded by the body of Christ, but it may also place a significant strain on the church’s technology infrastructure. With churches placing an increasing dependence upon technology to enable ministry, giving attention to the technology impact generated by attendance spikes is important.
The increased number of visitors and members during these events impacts the technology environment in three primary ways. First, an increased number of people also means that more children will need to be entered into any check-in system or process the church may be using. Second, most people who show up at your church will show up with a smart phone or some other type of personal device that will attempt to connect to the network automatically. This can impact connectivity and bandwidth significantly. Finally, the increased load on the network resources may cause potential interference with streaming and any Audio/Visual resources.
With all of this in mind, we’ve put together a quick list of several items that churches should consider in gearing up for one of these “big” Sundays in which you will have many more than the normal number of people under your roof.
For many churches, this is an area that is already typically stressful and bottlenecked on most Sundays. We have made suggestions in another post that are certainly applicable on these special days, but some additional steps may make sense as well.
- After testing carefully and making sure all of your regular check-in machines are fully functioning, you can add extra check-in machines. Converting extra staff or volunteer laptops or tablets into temporary check-in stations can help meet the short term need in a way that is both efficient and economical.
- To help ease the impact of the abnormal crowding, you may want to place the check-in stations in a more dispersed fashion. Physically spreading the stations out can help alleviate potential bottlenecks.
- Train and prepare all check-in staff to be able to implement a manual backup check-in plan in the rare but possible case of a power outage or total network interruption.
The potential impact on network performance of having hundreds (or thousands!) of personal devices attempting to connect at one time is significant. More bodies equals more devices equals more demands equals degraded Wi-Fi performance. You must expect this and plan for it. With this in mind, there are several steps that you can consider to minimize the impact on the visitors’ experience.
- One option that many churches take is to turn off guest access to the wireless altogether. Understanding that most people have 4G connectivity through their wireless provider, and reasoning that “no Wi-Fi connection is better than a bad Wi-Fi connection,” they choose to forestall a connectivity setup that they are pretty sure will be frustrating. As long as cell reception is strong throughout the church facilities, this may well be a prudent option.
- If the church does desire to provide Wi-Fi access to guests, it is critical that they make any necessary changes to optimize wireless configurations to enable a good experience. For these high-attendance days, this will undoubtedly involve making some trade-offs with respect to media wireless, staff wireless, and guest wireless.
- If providing public access to large number of users of Wi-Fi, you must properly segment the network and apportion bandwidth in such a way that guest use does not compromise child check-in stations and other necessary staff connectivity.
- One thing that you can do ahead of time to alleviate some of the issues is to make sure that wireless access points are free of physical obstacles.
- Ensure beforehand that any overflow rooms or “annexes” have equipment up, running, and tested prior to the event.
Audio/Visual and Streaming
- Whatever you do, don’t use Easter Sunday or Christmas as your first ever live streaming attempt! If you do decide to stream your service, do a trial run several days in advance, including a run-through with all streaming components: the computer, camera(s), plugins, audio equipment, stream speed, audio and visual quality check, etc. Also, perform your test run during a full Sunday service under realistic conditions, not mid-week when no one is there. While you may not have as many people on a normal Sunday as you do during a special service, you will have more than during the week; this will provide a more realistic assessment of the environment and your preparedness.
- Additionally, perform pre-service preparation tasks and put into place a back-up Audio/Visual plan that covers all the A/V components that go into a service or event. For a great A/V checklist to get you started, check out this Easter blog post from our friends at Ministry Tech.
- If streaming is an important part of the service or event, especially if it is a conference event, consider implementing a secondary internet connection as a backup.
- Sometimes, especially during conferences or special events, attendees will step outside the main meeting room or worship center and watch the event via streaming at another location in the facility. This puts a heavy load on the already-taxed infrastructure. Some churches block internal streaming at the church site via adjustments at the firewall or content filter level. (This is not applicable if the church has made the prior decision to turn off guest Wi-Fi access.)
The following are several miscellaneous suggestions, stemming from lessons some of our church clients have learned over the years.
- If you expect to ask people to use an app or the website to donate or to participate in a survey during the service/event, have your IT staff ensure that the seating area has adequate Wi-Fi density coverage to handle the demand.
- Many people will arrive earlier than normal on the special days because they know that it will be crowded. Your Audio/Visual team should be prepared to begin any pre-service slides or multimedia earlier than the normal start time for regular services.
- If you have any special directions regarding traffic, parking, child check-in, or other details, be sure to add those to your website to minimize the confusion for your guests. Most will be looking there ahead of time.
- In the same vein, after the event is over, make sure that there is a designated person to update the website and remove any of the special event-specific directions or information that no longer applies.
- With so many unfamiliar people on site, it is important to make sure that all physical network equipment and components are locked up and secure. This is also a good time to confirm that you have implemented “best practices” with regard to wireless security.
As a technology company that partners with churches to enable ministry, we understand well that technology is not Divine; it is only a tool. It can help enable ministry, but it is not ministry. We believe it is wise stewardship to do all you can to utilize technology effectively. Nevertheless, while you can do all of these suggested items and more to get out in front of potential problems, sometimes things just don’t go as planned. There are some things you can prepare for, and some things that you can’t. The bottom line is that Easter, Christmas and other special events provide unique opportunities to minister to a crowd who normally isn’t in your building. The most important thing that they can experience in your church is the love of Jesus.