Some wireless carriers are offering churches thousands of dollars per month to allow them to put in a new cell tower or antenna on church property, though there are both benefits and risks for churches that allow them to do so.
Churches in California, for example, can earn between $2,000 and $4,000 per month by leasing space for a cell site, though in doing so they lose a fraction of their property tax exemption, California Watch reports. In other areas of the country churches can earn $1,000 and up, from doing the same.
John W. Pestle, a partner at the regional business law firm Varnum LLP in Grand Rapids, Mich., says leasing to wireless carriers can be a good way for financially strapped churches to bring in extra income.
"Particularly in these difficult economic times, almost all churches are hurting, one degree or the other, so any additional income is extremely welcome," Pestle, who also serves as the head of his church's finance team, told The Christian Post.
In an article written in 2010, however, Pestle warns churches about what could happen if they fail to negotiate with cellular companies before signing a lease agreement. Companies want churches to agree to long-term leases – between 20 and 35 years – and the initial lease proposal is usually one-sided in the company's favor.
"The down side is really that...you run a risk that you've really mortgaged your future, that you have limited your ability to use your building or property for its primary purpose," said Pestle.
Churches limit their ability to expand their facilities, for example, when that expansion could interfere with the cellular tower or antenna. Another example is the issue of noise. In order to avoid noise distractions during church services, one church even negotiated the times when the wireless company could work on the roof, says Pestle.
Wireless carriers may also have the ability to make unlimited changes to the size, number, type and color of the antennas they install, unless those terms are carefully negotiated. Fortunately for some communities, which may consider all kinds of cell sites an eyesore, there are companies that specialize in disguising them.
"California is really the hotbed of concealment," Chris Hills, western region sales manager for Stealth Concealment Solutions, told California Watch. "There's more concealment there than anywhere in the world."
Hills says his company, which is based in North Charleston, S.C., and was founded in 1992, has installed sites not only in church steeples, but also in flagpoles, boulders and trees.
A spokesperson for Verizon Wireless said in an statement emailed to CP that the company doesn't necessarily seek out churches when it looks to install new cell sites – location is the most important factor.
"Location drives our selection, not any category of property owners," the spokesperson said. "If a church is located in an area where we need to locate a cell site and the church is a willing landlord, then we would consider a lease agreement with the church, but we do not seek out churches for cell site locations."
But Pestle says churches are often an ideal location.
"They are often one of the few, if only, non-residential buildings in or near a residential area," he said. "The other advantage is height. A classic church will have a steeple or tower...Steeples are just right in the sweet spot in terms of the height that is frequently desired."
Though Pestle's church is not currently leasing to a wireless provider, he says, he wishes it was and says it might if the right deal comes along.