Creating the perfect welcome
Thinking about who will visit and why will help you to make visits welcoming and enjoyable, and encourage visitors to come back!
Knowing your local area will help you promote local facilities and services to encourage longer stays, additional expenditure and repeat visits. Offering sites in every town and village, churches can add value and contribute to sustainable, authentic community tourism.
Churches Tourism Network Wales: hints and tips
Divine Inspiration: visitor welcome toolkit
Heritage Inspired: creating the perfect welcome
A special place
When welcoming people to your church, it is vital to remember that they are entering a special place, a living place and a place of prayer. There are many similarities between churches and other heritage attractions, but the spiritual significance of a faith site should not be ignored.
People who don’t go to church often find it difficult to open a closed church door and walk inside. You need to find a way of breaking down those barriers. Once inside, visitors usually expect a church to be something of a sanctuary and a place where they can find peace and tranquility.
Times Educational Supplement: churches as a special place
Who will visit
Visitors to churches come from all backgrounds, all ages and all nationalities. Your church is a place where visitors can learn about architecture, arts and crafts, and historical events as well as social history. They are keepers of community heritage, traditions and rites that may have been practiced for generations.
People visit churches as part of a wide range of activities, but cultural and heritage activities always rank highly in surveys of visitors or visitors books. Churches can respond to many visitor interests, from casual curiosity, through family history, exploring local heritage, to more serious engagement.
Generally, your visitors will fall into one of the following groups:
- Local members of the community, their family and friends
- Casual visitors looking for a quiet place
- Specialist groups or individual visitors (including church crawlers)
- People carrying out research, looking for something specific (including those researching family history)
- People attending an event (including life events)
- Walkers and cyclists (including those on a pilgrimage)
- School, college & university groups
- Tourists; those who stay overnight and might come from across the country or abroad
Historic England: the historic environment and tourism
Where to start
There are many things, large and small; simple or more complicated, which churches can do to attract more visitors, to give them a warm welcome, an enjoyable experience and to encourage them to return.
All churches are unique, with different and distinctive features and settings. What is appropriate and realistic in one church may not be the case in another. However, there are a few simple steps which can be undertaken by EVERY church, and you could start by considering the following:
- Is your church already open outside worship, and are opening times advertised?
- Are there welcomers / guides on duty who can greet visitors and answer questions?
- If your church is closed, are there times when there are people in church (eg. flower ladies, the cleaning team) when the building could be opened, or do you have a key available? (for safety reasons it is best to ask a local shop or pub to be a key holder, not a local resident)
- Is your church clean and tidy, bright and well lit with labelled light switches?
- Is there any information available about your church and its interesting features, including services?
Put yourself in a visitors shoes - would you find your church welcoming?
Issues to consider
Two sensible arguments often mistakenly used to keep a church closed are security and cost:
- Security: an issue of security can be tackled with good and clear advice from the experts
- Cost: can be negated by increased visitors and grant funding may be available for specific projects. Most first steps into church tourism need not cost vast sums of money, if anything at all. In fact, those who argue should consider the cost of doing nothing; an empty building is vulnerable to burglary and a locked door does little to promote a positive image of the church to a potential visitor
Carefully plan for ease of access; physical, cultural and intellectual. There are nine million people with a disability in the UK and they should not be excluded, make sure that visitors aren't disabled by your attitude and that all possible improvements have been made. Also consider intellectual and cultural understanding of your building, and offering services appropriate to the needs of particular types of visitor.
Historic England: easy access to historic buildings
Through the Roof: churches inc
Ecclesiastical Insurance: advice
The reputation of your church is based on the service you offer. Don’t afraid to set high standards for your welcome, guides, interpretation and more. Aspire to deliver excellence and exceed visitor expectations.
Some churches offer refreshments, either at a café run by volunteers or by setting up a hospitality tray (with kettle, teabags and biscuits) for visitors to make their own.
Most churches have some secular activities which can be developed for visitors; perhaps flower festivals, patronal festival open days, brass rubbing, or concerts.
Think laterally; architectural significance alone does not guarantee visitors. Romance, legend, physical situation and downright quirkiness all count towards the potential for attracting visitor interest. Where an academic might marvel at the perpendicular Gothic he or she may also find pleasure in the idiosyncratic.
Several diocesan church tourism officers have produced toolkits for action, which all churches can use. They are all slightly different, but all contain invaluable advice and support in the form of practical steps your churches can take to develop their tourism potential.
Diocese of Hereford: hello and welcome