A group of people standing on the steps outside a church

How to put on a heritage open day that gets the whole church and community involved


Opening your building up to the public is a great way of welcoming visitors into your church. And by tying it into a local heritage open day event, you could end up attracting many more people into your building. Ebrington Presbyterian church took part in a Heritage Open Day for the first time last year and managed to get their entire church and community involved. Here’s how they did it and the success they had. 

As part of their Treasure Ireland grant from the National Churches Trust, churches are encouraged to take part in European Heritage Open Days to explore the opportunity of sharing their heritage beyond their congregation.  

Ebrington Presbyterian Church received a £3,884 grant funded through the Pilgrim Trust to help make urgent repairs to their roof. They then found a creative way of taking part in the open days... 


Making memories  

Ebrington Presbyterian Church in Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland, is a neo-Classical style B+ listed church, built in 1897. Inside, it has Corinthian order columns supporting the timber gallery, as well as stunning stained glass windows.  

It’s not just the architectural features that attract visitors to churches, but also the memories encapsulated inside these beautiful buildings. Memories that are just waiting to be shared. 

The team at Ebrington decided to put a call out to their church – asking for photos from their congregation so they could share more about the history and life of the church over the years. 

"At the beginning of the summer we announced that this was going to happen, and the congregation were very proactive,” shares Alan, Clerk of Session at Ebrington Presbyterian Church. 

Soon it was not just church members getting involved. The local schools were asked to join in, the local community were sharing their memories too. The church was soon able to put together presentations and displays in the church filled with all the memories that were flowing in. 

A display set up in Ebrington Presbyterian Church


Easy and fun 

“It's been a good project and a project that I think was relatively easy for a lot of people to participate in because it was a matter of looking things out and bringing to mind good memories and then wanting to share that then with other people who are interested,” explains Paul, the minister at Ebrington Presbyterian Church. 

“You're looking for something that will bring everyone together and I think almost by accident rather than design, this has been quite straightforward, and a lot of people have participated.”  

Indeed, everyone has been joining in. 

“When I've been visiting some of the folk in the congregation, just partly as an elder, partly as a friend, in the run up to bring in the things they were so excited and went, ‘I've got this, would you like to look? Would you think it would be good?’ says Francis, an elder at the church. 

“And of course it all was good and there was that excitement. And I think... when this is all over, we'll have to think of something else to work on together because it does bring people together.” 

A woman sitting on a pew inside Ebrington Presbyterian Church


Reawakening the church 

Through working with their congregation and community to hold an Open Day, Ebrington Presbyterian Church found they had so much support and it reawakened the church in their mission to reach out even more to their local community. 

“When you look at it [the photos and memories] fresh and you start to look at minute books... communion rules and baptismal rules, you start to see a culture within the church family,” shares Alan. 

“And when you go down and you see so many names, surnames of families that are still around and you sometimes think, ‘Church, it's gone.’ 

“But there's the people who are still here. And it might be difficult with some empty pews now in old churches, but the families are still there. So, it really reawakens the need to get in touch with them again.” 

The Open Day was a great success for the church, with them being able to welcome visitors from near and far into their building – many coming for the very first time. It also brought together the church and local community in a really positive way.  

Ebrington Presbyterian Church are now planning to be involved with more open days in the future after witnessing the impact it's had. Could taking part in an open day have a similar impact for your church? 


For Churches: top tips for your place of worship

  • Taking part in a wider event is often really beneficial. Your church will be part of wider publicity, and the event will already be in the calendar of audiences who would like to visit. There are national open day events, local or regional open churches festivals or local events which involve other organisations. Here are some of the main ones you might like to look at
  • Get your church on board by inviting them to be a part of contributing to the project. You could also ask local schools and other groups that have used your building over the years. Why not ask your community too on Facebook and through your newsletters or local radio to send you their memories of your church and any photos they have? If you want extra ideas and guides on how to tell your church’s story, we have more information here
  • Make sure to tell people about your event. You can do this on social media, contact your local media and in your church newsletters. If you’re joining in with an official heritage open day, you will have access to some branded publicity materials, including logos and social media graphics. Use them to show that you are part of the event.  
  • Have clear signage on the day to make sure people know they can come in and explore your building. Make sure you have a sign on the footpaths and at the church entrances to say the church is open. Offer something which encourages people to donate or contribute. Sell refreshments or souvenirs and make sure that your ask for donations is clear and appropriate for your church. 
  • Think about what’s happening at your church so that you can invite local people to get involved with after their visit. Could you have information about any coffee mornings or parent and toddler groups you run? What about flyers to concerts and events they can attend? 
  • Count how many people attend. You could be part of our Great Church Visitor Count, find out more here