Visits to cathedrals and churches are at least as popular as visits to castles or historic houses, according to VisitBritain. Are we making the most of the potential for visitor interest in our churches?
People visit churches for many different reasons. Some do so as part of a family history quest: having done their research online, many wish to see where their forbears came from. Some come for historical or architectural interest, guide book in hand. Others may be walkers or cyclists, for whom country churches are points of interest en route. But it seems that most visits to churches are ‘un-premeditated’: not coming intentionally to visit the church, but as a spur-of-the-moment decision when they happen to be in the vicinity or passing by.
Unfortunately most people have come to expect church doors to be firmly locked, so will not attempt to visit unless there is an obvious sign of life and interest. It is not surprising, then, that the number of visitors generally increases significantly when there is a welcoming ‘church open’ sign outside!
Even the simplest church may have potential to welcome visitors in new and creative ways, and making visitors feel welcome need not cost a lot of money. The important thing is that the church is seen to be expecting visitors, and has put some thought into making them feel wanted and welcome.
Useful resources to get you started
The following sources of advice and inspiration may help you to enhance the experience your church offers to visitors:
- A checklist for opening churches to visitors - an advice leaflet subtitled ‘Why and How to Open your Church daily or regularly’, by Canon Philip Norwood (Leicestershire, 2009). Many of these suggestions – in a handy check-list format - may be relevant to your church. Free to download from here: Open Churches.
- A Ministry of Welcome Toolkit - an easy-to-use ‘toolkit’ produced for the Diocese of Carlisle in 2006, still one of the most popular sources of this kind. It covers a process from before a visit takes place, to arrival, the actual visit, and what happens at the end of a visit and afterwards. Free to download from the Carlisle Diocese website here. (NB the file is quite large, at 1.7Mb).
- A Toolkit for Self-Audit and Assessment - Achieving a high quality visitor experience is seldom achieved by chance, but will almost certainly be the outcome of careful planning and anticipation of visitor needs at all levels. Download this useful Self-Audit Toolkit - it was produced by the North West Multi-Faith Tourism Association and has been used by many churches to carry out their own straightforward step-by-step assessment.
- How to encourage visitors on a spiritual journey – it is good to welcome visitors to our lovely churches, but how might we engage them in the faith for which those churches were built? A short guide with practical and simple suggestions was written by Rev’d Eileen MacLean, former Vicar of Bamburgh, for Newcastle Diocese Tourism Task Group (2006). Free to download from here: Encouraging Visitors.
- Sharing your Story - how write leaflets that visitors really want, see our advice and ideas on Writing Materials for Visitors.
- Promoting your church - see our invitation to take part in a New Guide to Churches.
- See the Website of The Churches Tourism Association for access to a range of advice and downloadable resources, also details of the CTA 2012 Convention, 19-21 November, Swanwick, Derbyshire.
- Open for You: The Church, the Visitor and the Gospel, by Paul Bond, Canterbury Press Norwich (2006), RRP £14.99, ref ISBN-10: 1853117145. A practical guide to help local congregations look at every aspect of their building and ways of meeting visitors' needs - from ensuring comfort to providing a quiet place for prayer and making the Christian faith fully accessible.
- Exploring Churches - a resource for teachers and parents and for churches welcoming schools visits. Full of interesting ideas for activities and photocopiable materials and activity sheets, it covers most aspects of the school curriculum with sections on Citizenship and other places of worship. £6 (inc. postage) from The Churches Conservation Trust.