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On a Web and a prayer

Church IT pros looking to help attract parishioners with more interactive services.

By , Network World
October 30, 2006 12:08 AM ET

Network World - "Will you now open your laptops to the Web page in your program and recite the following passage. . . ."

No, this is not your father's church. This is the sort of thing parishioners at the Granger Community Church (GCC) in Granger, Ind., hear from their pastor every Sunday.

GCC is possibly the most wired and Web-savvy church in the country (read our story about what its technology director provides in the church's blog). It maintains an active Wi-Fi hot spot during services, and parishioners are encouraged to bring laptops along with their hymnals to access Web pages relevant to that day's service or church events.

"We try to be as innovative and as cutting edge as we can, because the culture in this area is looking for it," says Jason Powell, technology director at GCC.

Powell and GCC use network technology to reach out to the people the church is looking to attract: married urban professionals between the ages of 35 and 45, with children, mortgages and other daily household routines, who were turned off by church while growing up.

"People in our area are expecting a certain quality level," Powell says. "How can we be relevant in today's culture?"

Enabling wireless Internet access before, during and after service is one way. Having a Web portal page with links and downloadable PDFs that pastors and parishioners can refer to during service is another.

Yet another is a wireless kiosk GCC deploys for hosting a church management system that registers and tracks children participating in the church's weekend activities. The kiosk locates a match for the parishioner's phone number and prints a unique identifier sticker for parent and child to be presented when the child is picked up.

Though innovative and cutting-edge, wireless kiosks and electronic missals are not yet wholly embraced by all GCC congregants. Only about six parishioners boot up during service, Powell says.

But this is still an example of how some churches are employing the latest network technology to better serve their parishioners. Church IT officials are also employing blogs, podcasts and other Web-based communication tools to share their experiences and offer tips.

"Our Web presence is integral to our communications strategy," says Clifton Guy, director of IT at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan. "We average more than 10,000 visits per week to our site, with 1,700 views of our sermon on streaming video. We have approximately 500 subscribers to our sermon podcast. We also send out a weekly e-mail newsletter to 10,000 subscribers promoting opportunities at the church by linking back to the Web site."

Guy says the church's senior pastor sends a weekly e-mail to the congregation promoting church activities, answering theological questions, talking about his upcoming sermon and so forth. The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection has approximately 60% of its square footage covered by free Wi-Fi.

"The coverage includes our sanctuary, so it is possible for people to use it during worship services," Guy says. "However, we don't encourage it or have any applications making use of it."

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