A visitor’s arrival is very important – first impressions count! The Church should provide every assistance possible for visitor’s arrival. This includes:
• A welcome sign
• Disabled access
• Opening times
• Creating a warm welcome
• Church housekeeping
• Church notices
Welcome signage. This is probably the most important element for church tourism – a “Welcome”! It is essential for a Church to have a specific ‘visitor welcome’ sign in a prominent position either on or adjacent to the door or just inside. This notice or sign should be colourful and welcoming and should be well maintained. The sign should not be faded, have evidence of damage from damp or curled corners. The Tourism Project has developed a suitable sign, which Churches can download (from the Hereford Diocese website Tourism section), laminate and display.
All Churches should be unlocked and open for passing visitors during daylight hours. This is considered not only good practice but it is widely believed that an ‘open’ Church is far safer than one which is closed.
Advice on Church Security can be gained from Ecclesiastical Insurance or from National Church Watch www.nationalchurchwatch.com or email email@example.com, telephone 01749 344992 or write to ‘Endeavour’, 8 Commercial Road, Shepton Mallet, Somerset, BA4 5DH).
If it is impossible for a Church to remain constantly open then every attempt should be made to open the Church for a certain period of time on a particular day, say every Saturday morning during the months of July and August. On days where it is impossible for the Church to open, arrangements should be made for a keyholder. A sign should be clearly displayed on the Church door stating how or where the key can be obtained. This is the very last resort in terms of providing access since a large proportion of visitors are deterred by having to locate a key.
Disabled Access. In October 2004 the final part of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) came into force. This requires all public buildings, including Churches, to have made reasonable attempts to provide for disabled access. From 1 October 2004 all service providers will have to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the physical features of their premises to overcome physical barriers to access. Where a physical feature makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to access a church building, you must take reasonable steps to either (a) Remove the feature; (b) Alter the feature so that it no longer acts as a barrier to access; (c) Provide a reasonable means of avoiding the feature or (c) (d) Provide a reasonable alternative method of making the service available to disabled people. Physical features include features arising from the design or construction of a building and premises, including the approach, the entrance or way out of the building. They include fixtures, fittings, furniture, equipment or materials on the premises, plus temporary structures. The extent to which it is reasonable for a church to undertake actions requiring expenditure depends on its size, resources and its particular circumstances. All Churches will know that a proportion of their visitors have special needs, as a result provision should be made for them wherever possible. This includes, for example:
o White lines across the edges of steps;
o Large print for important signs;
As well as stating opening times on the church notice board at the entrance to the churchyard, a similar notice should be provided in the church porch.
Creating a warm welcome
does not necessitate turning on the heating every day. There are many simple means for creating the impression of a warm welcome. This can be lighting a special feature to attract visitors into the church, flowers (kept fresh at all times) or spotlighting a display or the high altar.
A church that is clean and tidy is a cared for, loved church. This basic of element of management is not easy in churches (bats and birds roosting in the rafters, crumbling stonework and plaster, dust generally!) but it is essential to meet this important need. It shows that the community cares about its church.
The old adage that ‘first impressions last’ is very true. People form lasting impressions of places during the first few minutes of their stay.
A recent survey revealed the top 10 most important factors that shape a visitor's first impressions of a Church. They are:
(3) Church being used and loved
(4) Noticeboards and information
It is therefore very important that a Church provides the right initial impression. Wherever possible therefore a Church should:
o appear clean with floors swept, carpets vacuumed and surfaces polished.
o Signpost an area within the Church where visitors can pray (see below). This area should provide easy access to a Bible, to a short prayer and where appropriate and possible provide candles and a sand tray.
o All noticeboards should be kept in a tidy and current state. The board should be subject to regular housekeeping with old and out of date notices being disposed of. The board itself should be fit for purpose. The noticeboard should be easily accessible to visitors and should promote up-coming events in the Church and Parish. The church insurance policy, the fire extinguisher inspection certificate and diocesan accounts are not of great interest to visitors. Have a separate board for these notices for parishioners.
o In winter months Churches can be very dark and cold, two attributes which can make them very unwelcoming. Whenever possible a small source of background heat should be evident on initial entry and courtesy lighting should be available. There are several ways that this can be achieved, either via a donation in an electricity box which initiates the lights, the leaving on of a small welcome lamp, the presence of a motion activated courtesy light or details adjacent to the door on how visitors can put on the Church lights for the duration of their visit.
o Flowers in a Church are multi-purpose, providing a welcoming scent and making the Church looked loved and cared for. Just a small posy of flowers on a welcome table can make all the difference.
*Does the Church have a ‘welcome’ sign for visitors?
*Is the ‘welcome’ sign located in a prominent location, which is visible on entering the Church? Is the ‘Welcome’ sign well maintained (ie, not faded or effected by damp)?
Is the Church always unlocked during daylight hours? If it is not possible for the Church to always be unlocked are there arrangements for it to be unlocked for short periods on regular days at certain times of year?
Is a sign clearly displayed providing instructions for obtaining the key when the Church is not open? Disabled Access Can the physically disabled access the majority of the Church?
Have you undertaken a disability audit?
Are ramps provided for steps and steep slopes?
Are handrails provided?
Are white lines painted on the edge of steps?
Are important messages provided in large print? Have you made every reasonable attempt to remove physical obstacles in the Church, or provided alternative routes or access?
Is the floor swept, carpets vacuumed and surfaces polished?
Is there an area set-aside and signposted for quiet prayer?
Does this quiet prayer area have access to a Bible, a short prayer, candles and a sand tray?
Are noticeboards visually tidy?
Do they display relevant current posters and information for the Church & Parish?
Is there a source of suitable background welcome heat?
Is the Church well lit for visitors (have you made provision for visitor access to lighting?)
Does the Church display flowers, either as regular Church decoration or in the form of a welcoming posy?