Buried in the Terms of Service: A True Story
A little over a year ago, I was searching for a new ChMS (Church Management System) with an integrated web-based volunteer system for my congregation. After months of searching and testing demos, I finally had my choices narrowed down to two companies. In reality, I had a strong leaning toward one of them, and after the full staff did a demo we decided to contract with them. What happened next, though, completely surprised me.
At the very end of the Terms of Service, I encountered a series of statements about the company’s theology. That wasn’t entirely surprising, since a great many church-related companies have such statements. Up to that point, however, nothing on the website that I had seen and nothing in any of the (many) conversations I’d had with the sales rep gave me pause.
One statement, however, was problematic enough that we couldn’t proceed. As I don’t wish to single out just one company in this article, I’ll refrain from including it here. In a nutshell, it said this: “We reserve the right to terminate your service if your church’s theology is in conflict with our own beliefs.”
That was a risk we were not willing to take, given that my church tends to fall on the progressive end of the spectrum overall and the theological statements were decidedly more conservative. So, we rejected them. I was incredibly disappointed with that company for so burying that statement in a legal document that I would bet a good many churches don’t read carefully. Had I seen that statement sooner, I wouldn’t have wasted so many hours reviewing the software.
The Warning You Should Heed
Think about this for a moment: what would you do if your church website, email provider, church management system, or online financial system suddenly pulled the plug on your account. Would you have a full backup of your data? Would that data be easily transferable to another system?
The reality is likely this: you would not just be hopping mad. You’d feel as if a great injustice had been done. You would act as if your faithful congregation was being unfairly targeted by a company who felt it was the theology police for a good chunk of Christendom.
When we created Aboundant, among our core values was this statement about our non-discrimination policy:
Unlike some Christian software companies, we won’t threaten to terminate your service if we don’t agree with what you believe.
Now, that may lose us clients, I suppose. After all, we’re up front about the fact that we will gladly work with faith communities of every size and shape, theological bent, or way of doing worship. We’re an ecumenical team, so we don’t always see eye-to-eye on every matter of biblical interpretation. We believe it’s a privilege to work with congregations of any faith, of any denomination, of any size…in large part because we understand God to be at work in the most unexpected of places. (Yes, even that large, growing church in town that has no hymns in their hymnal written since roughly 1940.)
The TL;DR Takeaway
If your church uses any type of online church software, including website software, you may wish to take a close look at their Terms of Service. (Often, you’ll find this buried in the footer or in a sitemap, by the way.) If you’re not happy with what you see there, perhaps it’s time to start your search for another, more open, option. Let those companies know you don’t agree with what they are doing…but perhaps wait until you have your data fully backed up first.