CHURCH TOURISM TIPS & IDEAS
This text is taken from a talk given by Angela Montague of Push Creativity at the Churches Festival AGM, September 2016. Angela manages the website, social media, PR and photography for the festival.
Firstly, I think with so many things in life, there is a lot to be said for ‘keep it simple, stupid’ (or KISS for short). Your church is the star of the show, so don’t gild the lily.
Although I am going to give you a lot of ideas, don’t feel you must do everything. We have over 90 churches in the festival, so we can offer a range of experiences across the group, it’s OK to focus on one or two ideas, and in many ways better to do this, to keep things simple and not spread your energy too far. So consider all the options, then decide what suits your building, your team of volunteers and your community:
- If your church has a fantastic organ, then your experience can focus on that
- If you’re in an amazing setting, you could make flora and fauna or rambling your focus
- If you’re team includes a local history buff, a flower arranger, if you have a bell ringing group, then that could be your focus
- If your church has a national treasure, you could build on that. Tell the story behind the treasure and the time it comes from.
This is a tick list of the most obvious preparation work.
Look at your church with the eyes of a critical visitor. A grumpy one! If I were a grumpy visitor what would I moan about? Eliminate that.
Have a tidy up, inside and out. You can tell if a building is loved by how recently it was tidied.
- Is there a leaflet about the church? Do you have enough fresh copies?
- Is there a display board on the church itself? Again does it need refreshing?
- Fresh flowers always welcoming, even if you’re not billing the church as having floral displays
- Do you need a new visitors' book?
- Is your noticeboard up to date? Chuck out anything old and tatty.
- Do you need to order new postcards or other souvenirs?
- Have you signposted the church from the road (the festival does provide stationery to help you do this)
- Do you have a bowl of fresh water for a thirsty dog? This simple kindness will mean a lot to a dog owner (and the dog).
- Is there a (dust-free) collection jar that's easy to spot?
A friendly greeting is of course a must for any event, but it's important that visitors can clearly see you are the steward for the church, the person to speak to if they want to know more.
Some people will be pleased to chat to you, others will want to discover the church themselves, your job is to work out which this is.
I’d recommend letting them get their bearings inside the building, then offer a simple introduction. Your name, what’s on offer, the fact you’re here to answer questions… then let them reveal if they want to talk or walk.
“Welcome to St Mary’s, my name's Angela.
This year, our church is offering visitors a display on researching your family history, and if you hang about there’s some bell ringing at 2pm...
There is also tea, coffee and biscuits if you need refreshments
Enjoy your time with us, and come and find me if you have any questions, or Fred over there who’s also here to help
Or, for quieter churches
“Welcome to St Mary’s, my name's Angela.
Ours is one of the quiet churches, where the building itself is the main attraction
Enjoy your time with us, and come and find me if you have any questions.”
Also consider a dedicated welcome table, which could include a small bouquet of flowers, a visitor book and brochures, next to the entrance way. This could also hold your ‘stories unlocked’ printouts, if your church has created on this year.
A fair few people ‘stumble on’ an open church during the festival, if you spot this type of visitor, please let them know about the festival and the fact that there a loads of other open churches to visit. Giving them a brochure and perhaps discussing the map with them means they’ll most likely visit the other churches in the area. You could recommend the next church to visit. We’d like to have no brochures left over in 2017, because we've given them to people that are interested in churches, including lots of people who are completely new to the event! If they don’t seem to be holding a brochure, or you hear them say they ‘well I did not know this was happening!’, get a brochure into their hands!
HAPPY CHILDREN HAPPY PARENTS
I-Spy sheets are a fantastic way to get young children engaged with the building. You could take photographs of interesting features of your church, and create an I-Spy sheet using a computer, then print them off for them to tick each one off, or you could place small items around the church (such as teddy bears) and get them to find all ten teddies. A simple reward such as a sticker and a snazzy pencil would work well here. If you’ve no idea how to create an I-spy sheet on your computer, talk to your local school and ask if the older children want an interesting IT project to take on. You'll get your sheet, and you'll have introduced children (and most likely their families during the festival itself) into your church.
Another simple idea is a small table with coloring crayons and pictures to colour in, especially helpful if parents want to enjoy a drink.
SCHOOLS, BOY SCOUTS AND BROWNIES
You can also reach out to the local schools or other children’s groups and ask them to provide a display for the open days. It could be religions, but does not have to be. This is a fantastic way of encouraging families into churches, people who might not be a natural church visitor. Maybe you could fill your front pews with cardboard cutout people?
If your local school has a choir, could they come and sing on the Saturday evening?
Could you local Scouts and Brownies help out with the church tidy, then take part in church camping – of champing – as a reward? The local press would love that.
You can read more about Church Camping at this link:
Holy Nights: Camping in a Church
This is a great one to get schools involved in. Along one wall of the church place a ribbon, your timeline, from when the church was built to the modern day, and at key points add a significant event, such as changes to the church, local events as well as national ones.
The active groups in your local community could be enlisted to create a display for your event. So what groups are very active on your patch, and how can you harness that? A local history society could do a display, a local drama group put on a short performance. A local wildlife group could give a talk on the flora and fauna to find in your churchyard. Do you have a strong family history group? Could they be enlisted to offer guidance to others on tracing their family tree?
Music is of course always appropriate in a church. It’s lovely to hear choral singing or organ music in such surroundings, so if you have a good CD player bring it along and add to the atmosphere.
I did notice at St Radegund they were playing some vintage jazz at their church, which fitted well with the café atmosphere they had created by turning the pews around to face each other. If you have the muscle, making pews face each other for a café feel is a great way to make a church into a place for conversation.
Again think of a concert on the Saturday evening, which could be a very slick event with professionals, or a talent show, where anyone local is encouraged to do a turn. I believe Middle Rasen church did this recently to great success.
Make sure all the bulbs are working, of course, but also think about the theatre of the space you have. Dark corners or alcoves can be transformed with candles, and for health and safety you can now get battery operated candles to give the look without the risk!
Books, crafts, plants, local art, vintage (the new name for a jumble sale)
Lots of visitors love to combine shopping with church crawling. If there is space and the weather is good, these can work well outside, to leave the church space open and to show people passing that the church is up to something.
So that’s my ideas for today. If you've any ideas that really worked at your church, email them the festival so they can be added to this resource
IDEAS FROM OTHER WEBSITES
National Churches Trust: just choose ‘visitor welcome’ or ‘events’ or anything else you are interested in from the drop down menu:
Churches Visitor and Tourism Association, which has tourism related resources and training and events for churches: www.cvta.org.uk
Sarah Crossland (Church Tourism Manager at the National Churches Trust), invites any festival churches to get in touch with her, to get more support or advice or to list their church in the Trust's new tourism listings, once they are up and running! Her email is
TIPS FROM OUR CHURCHES
For more that works - St Edmund’s Riby run a Summer Club one day a week for 4 weeks during the summer holidays. You will find details and photos on our Facebook page. Also we run a Film Night with a fork supper during the months of Oct, Nov, Jan, Feb & March for adults once a month and a Children’s Film Event during the Oct and Feb half term. You will find photos and videos about them on there too. St Edmund's Riby Facebook