Can Your Congregation Benefit from the Wireless Revolution?
By: Colleen Troy
Last summer, The Baltimore Sun reported that area churches were making money – serious money – leasing their steeples to wireless carriers.
That report – which indicated that churches could make up to $1,000 a month per carrier, and lease their air space to numerous competing companies – was picked up by national radio and other publications.
If you missed it, don't worry; your church has not missed the opportunity to gain new revenue by leasing the air space above your roof. Indeed, experts say that heightened demand for wireless signal means steeples will be more valuable to businesses than ever.
Futurists point to continued growth in the wireless world. Just think of the smart phones, tablets and other gadgets that have come to dominate the culture. All those gadgets are starved for signal. And next time you see a cell phone commercial, know that their talk of "4G" networks is money in the bank. Carriers need more towers, to support bigger antennas, to fuel this wireless world.
The article featured a photo of a gothic, stone steeple festooned with wire antennas. Think 1950s TV rabbit ears, multiply by 10, and you've got the picture.
But must a congregation sacrifice aesthetics for dollars?
No, says Ken Wedholm, global sales manager at STEALTH, a company that invented "wireless concealment" 20 years ago. Its work involves concealing wireless towers in various faux structures, from trees to silos to lamp posts to flag poles. Increasingly, their work hides in plain sight atop churches.
Concealments are also being built into crosses, bell towers, and other structures that soar above their surroundings.
"Every year, we build dozens of steeples for congregations all over the country," said Wedholm. "We've been so successful that congregants can't tell, from one Sunday to the next that we've completely overhauled their steeple or clock tower."
Industry leaders do caution that not all steeples are created equally. The value of a congregation's air space depends entirely on the need for – and absence of – wireless signal in the surrounding area.
Urban and densely suburban communities are good places for these installations. Municipalities have made it increasingly difficult to construct new wireless towers. As a result, carriers have necessarily become creative about sharing space with competitors. Height is also key; wireless transmission relies on unimpeded signal, thus the need to elevate the signal above the nearby built environment.
Currently, rural churches may find less demand for their space, as landowners are often more receptive to leasing space to towers. But, as Wedholm notes, carriers will often "future proof" their business, purchasing rights now based on projected demand.
"In the end, if you can let your regional carriers know that you've got a place for them, they'll take note, and call when the time is right," said Wedholm.
Interested in leasing your air space to a carrier? Here are a few tips:
• Be realistic. Does your community appear to use a lot of wireless signal? Is your congregation willing to trade their historic steeple for a very real-looking replica that allows signal to pass through?
• Be patient. Wireless companies are big corporations, and it can often take a very long time to process contracts.
• Be choosey. The carrier may try to hire a low-cost concealment company to build your steeple. Make sure they've chosen a company that can not only build your steeple, but make it beautiful.
• Be thinking business. There's no sin in declining the first offer if your congregation needs more from its lease. Due diligence – talking with peers in other towns who've gone through this process – can be a very powerful tool.
• Be proactive with maintenance. Your new steeple will require upkeep. Be sure you build a maintenance contract into your agreements, and be willing to share some burdens of its care.
Colleen Troy is a marketing executive and a freelance writer based in Charleston, South Carolina, whose work has appeared in numerous regional and national publications.