Four people stand outside the front of St Stephen on the Cliffs Church in Blackpool

How to be an open church


We all hear about a church being open, but what does it really mean? Who gets to come into the building and when? And what for? St Stephen on the Cliffs church in Blackpool shares with us why their building being open is a vital part of the life of the church – even in the midst of a large building project. 

Open every day 

“There’s no school nearby and the local council, our ward councillors, always remind us that we are the only public building in the area,” explains Father Andrew Teather, vicar at St Stephens on the Cliffs. 

"It’s a gift and a blessing, as well as a burden in a way.” 

But whether it’s outside or inside the church, you will always find something going on. 

“So, we have a number of things,” says Father Andrew. "You walk to the garden first of all. We encourage people to walk their dogs in the gardens, to play in the garden. We’re having a family gala day quite soon as well, as you know – bring your toys [games] with you – and we've got Vikings doing enactments in the gardens, we've got Bollywood dancers dancing in the gardens, we’ve got a break-dancing group or street dancing in the gardens, and doing community activities with the children near here as well.  

“You walk in the door, you see on your left-hand side, immediately a ‘help yourself’ food bank... that's replenished almost every day. 

“The door is open seven days a week, about 10-12 hours a day.”

A vicar stands in front of the altar inside St Stephen on the Cliffs Church in Blackpool
Father Andrew, Vicar at St Stephens on the Cliffs

“We don’t want to be a closed church” 

“Churches are not here to be locked up,” continues Father Andrew. 

“Museums used to lock themselves up and not change things, and the museums that didn't stop doing that closed down – and even museums are much more interactive than many parish churches are.  

“You look at so many locked doors when you walk past. So, our first gift is to be a place people can come into, and to be who they want to be – to relax, to pray, to find a whole smorgasbord of activities going on here each day, which they can get involved if they want to... 

“But from the moment you walk in the gates, to the moment you leave again, you'll meet people doing stuff in our campus and that's how it has to be... we don't want to have a closed church.” 


A free resource  

“A lot of care homes, they bring their residents in here as well over the course of the day, fairly regularly. People just come and get some quiet time and pray,” shares Father Andrew. 

“It’s the only place you can go into in the area, and sit down and put your feet up, go on the Wi-Fi, say a prayer or whatever you want to do without having to pay any money.  

“And you see when the shifts change at certain times of day in different care homes, we get busy around that time as well... People feel safe and comfortable just coming in here to say, ‘you know, I'm knackered. I just want to sit down for an hour or half an hour or have a quick doze on the pews’, which is fine. Or they can find something to eat as well... because the people that work in the cabs are not particularly well paid. So, we help sort of feed them as well, which is a blessing for us. 

“We've got two halls as well, which we do lease them out, of course. We lease them out to some groups at very small rents... So, we've got 50 Cubs and Scouts there on Monday evenings, children's karate classes, the usual Zumba and Weight Watchers. And we have community groups that want to hire it out for committee meetings. 

“We subsidise a monthly meal in there as well, themed around the time of the year we're in... and then we have ‘Tea and Chat’ in there as well. Each month people will just come and drop in and enjoy themselves, spend some time with each other and they pay £1 for afternoon tea. 

“We have the only tea dance in the whole of Blackpool as well, which is a completely misunderstood art form!” 

Repair works at St Stephen on the Cliffs Church, Blackpool
St Stephen Church
St Stephen Church

But doesn’t a building project put a stop to all of this? 

St Stephen’s on the Cliffs is near the coast and the unlisted building is regularly battered by high winds of 50 to 60 miles per hour and heavy rainfall. The timbers in the roof have rotted and the roof was on its last legs. 

The National Churches Trust has been able to support the church with a grant of £50,000 through our Last Chance Churches appeal to pay for urgent roof repairs.  

The church could have easily decided to close its doors while the repairs were happening. But instead, they found that the project brought the community even closer together. 


Community support  

“Everyone's come and actually they've said ‘you know, we're not gonna stop coming’ and they've kept supporting us,” says Father Andrew. 

“The community as well, who hire our halls, and people who use the halls for social events and functions and community meetings kept coming as well. It’s not been very nice for them in there, because you've been having children's karate classes or Scouts and Cubs and social events in the hall where the windows are being covered over completely by steel scaffolding [and they've been] completely pitch dark inside, and they're not ideal for use, but people just said ‘we're not gonna stop coming – we'll keep on doing what we've always done and we'll get through this.’ 

“But also, the doors were open seven days a week anyway for most of the day; people have kept coming in as well and visiting us.” 

A service takes place outside St Stephen on the Cliffs Church, Blackpool
St Stephen Church

Bringing the community together  

“I think seeing the work being done has been quite interesting for people to watch as well,” continues Father Andrew.  

“It helps to know that we're alive, that we're here, the buildings are open... [we’re] looking after it. And if we are looking after the building, we're only doing it for the community around us.  

“And so, to have that visibly being done as well, even though it's been awful having the scaffolding up and all the work being done, it has shown the people that live here that there are there are people that love this place and keep it going and keep on maintaining it. And that that's what attracts [the church] to people, as well, when they move here. 

“I think having seen that work being done, people come on to me and say: ‘what are you doing?’ I say, ‘well, we're building a water park like you're seeing... no, we’re having the roof put back on again’ and it engages people in in what we do. 

"We can say to people, ‘what do you want to do here? What can we offer you, space wise, or offer you resource wise?’ And actually we can pay for some of that, we can resource people as well. So, you can bring your interest here. You can use this building for being a community together.” 


Benefits of an open church 

Father Andrew works with the North Blackpool Business Improvement District group, and they’ve just got funding from the National Lottery to design and put boards on the Queen’s Promenade – the busy seven-mile seafront path – which will point people towards historic buildings in North Blackpool, including St Stephen on the Cliffs. 

Even more people will be able to visit this beautiful church and discover the array of activities that go on inside. And because the church is always open, they are never going to find a locked-up church if they decide to follow the direction. Instead, they will find a historic church that is open and ready to welcome them. 


For Churches: top tips for your place of worship 

  • To attract more people into your church, people have to know it’s open. As well as listing opening times on your website and social media pages, consider putting out welcome boards when your church is open and have opening times and days, plus activities you run, listed on posters outside your building or attached to your fence. 

  • You can encourage more visitors to your church by adding a page about your church to the Explore section of our website. This will help people near and far find out about your church and plan their visit. 

  • Opening your door to visitors is one of the easiest things you can do, with little or no effort. There are, of course, some considerations you should make: about your building, your community and your potential visitors. But there is a huge amount of information and support available, both before and after you open, including in our helpful guide.  

  • Being open will help keep your building secure and can help support future applications to funders. At the National Churches Trust, we do look for how often a church is open and its engagement with the community when we award our grants. 

  • If you’ve got a building project happening, check with your contractors and staff team to see how you can keep your building open as usual. Having your congregation and community see the progress being made will make them feel more connected to your project and may inspire them to donate or support the project in other ways. You could even put up posters about the project and create leaflets, to make it really easy for people to find out more. Why not hold a day at your church where people can find out about the craft skills and work on your building? You could market this to nearby schools and colleges.