The deal sounded good.
About 50 churches in the Washington, D.C., area leased interactive electronic kiosks for their entrance areas so that members and visitors could check on activities and news and register for classes and meetings. The selling point? Church leaders say the kiosks were presented to them as "cost-free," with the chance for their churches to potentially earn revenue from advertisers interested in reaching church audiences.
But in April 2009, a lawsuit filed against three commercial leasing firms, an online services firm, and an interfaith digital network services firm by the District of Columbia churches suggested the deal wasn't a good one. The churches say they received lengthy—and costly—leases and faulty equipment, as well as fees and termination expenses. All told, the lawsuit estimates hundreds of thousands of dollars in combined losses for the churches.
Officials from at least two of the firms denied the allegations. News reports indicated that the companies must prove the charges and expenses were disclosed—in the "fine print"—even as the equipment was advertised as cost-free.
The situation underscores why it's important for church leaders to review any contract before signing it. Legal experts concede that contracts and agreements can be tough to navigate, but necessary to do nonetheless.
"One insurance coverage contract I reviewed was over a thousand pages long," says Frank Sommerville, a Christian attorney based in Houston. "There was a lot of complex language surrounding liability coverage and exclusions, and that could create a lot of potential issues for the church."