• Church tours
• Links with the local community
• Needs of children & young people
• Educational school visits
• Free items
• Items for sale
• Donations box
• Who’s who
• Welcoming steward or guide
• Invitations to services
• Visitor refreshments
• Tower tours
• Special needs
• Environmental sustainability
Whilst all the features listed above can meet the basic needs of the visitor and help to enrich their experience, there are further elements that can be provided to complete that sense of enrichment. Providing interpretation to improve a visitor’s experience is just one tool that a Church can employ. Those displaying best practice should also attempt to provide ancillary ‘welcome services’. The types of ‘service’ that a Church should offer or at least consider offering have been researched by Jeremy Martineau and are included in the advice he gives in his publication ‘Rural Visitors’ This book is recommended to all Churches but a summary of the main suggestions follows:
Promotion of local cycle and footpath routes; acting as a church hub for other churches in the area with links/routes between
Hereford Diocese Coach Tours: A Resource Pack for Tour Organisers, with predetermined and tested coach tours
Best practice: Eden Church Trail, Cumbria: A simple leaflet describing and guiding visitors to 23 churches in this area, using three car routes, described as “England’s Green and Pleasant Land”.
Links with the local community
Notices of community activities, kept up to date; orientation - notices advertising local eating places, shops, pubs, accommodation, crafts and galleries, cycle hire, footpaths & parish map, other churches (other denominations or churches within a group
Children and young people
Children’s Trail Leaflets. Children are an often overlooked but very valuable category of Church visitor. Younger children’s needs are not catered for by the traditional ‘adult’ forms of interpretation that have been described above. It is therefore prudent to provide some specific interpretation for this group. Family trails or Church quizzes are popular and maximize learning and understanding through enjoyment. It is suggested that those completing a quiz or trail place it in a box for entry into a competition for say, a £10 book voucher.
Education and school visits
Promotion of school visits supported by an education pack for Key Stages 1 & 2, at least; maybe supported as well by a volunteer with education experience and CRE clearance Forge stronger links with the local school, not just for a Harvest Festival and the annual carol service. The church and its churchyard is an educational resource bursting with information, facts, history and other curricular details. Instigate churchyard safaris with an approachable local natural historian?
Offer free items to seek enhanced donations, for example introductory leaflets, a prayer card, bookmarks There is unquantifiable evidence from several churches that if 2-3 freebies are offered to visitors, the level of donations increases proportionately.
Items for sale. Research shows that those visiting a Church are more likely to linger and leave a donation if there is something available to purchase.
Many churches are concerned with security when leaving items of value for sale unattended. However, Ecclesiastical Insurance insists that Churches that are open are safer and secure than those that are closed. There will inevitably be some loss but many Churches in the Diocese of Hereford have found that this loss is outweighed by the benefit of having the items on view.
Items that have a higher value, such as framed prints, can be sold in a slightly different way. A coloured photocopy of the item can be made into a poster giving the visitor the cost of the item and asking them to leave their name, address and payment in the wall safe. The item can then be safely posted to the visitor. (It’s useful to have a small supply of envelopes and self-completion forms displayed near the poster for this purpose.).
The majority of items that Churches have for sale have little monetary value and include: mugs, second-hand books, postcards, a selection of seeds in flowerpots, fresh vegetables and fruit in season from the gardens of the congregation, a ‘good wish bowl’ (good wishes are printed on small pieces of paper and placed in a large bowl, visitors chose a ‘wish’ and leave a donation); notelets, bird feeders and nest boxes, children’s trail competitions etc. The sale of locally made items (pottery, preserves, wooden items, for example, would enhance the local and distinctive nature of such items. It would also be a memento of a visit.
A donations box with notice encouraging donations and the cost of maintaining the church (& a statement regarding the security of the box)
It is good to put a name to a face if you are a visitor or have just moved to the parish. It also shows that the church ‘team’ is real and approachable. It demonstrates that there is a team there to serve the church and its community, to care for the church and to support it. These people are part of this local community.
Welcoming steward or guide
. Whilst it is recognized that it is not always possible to have a member of the Church or community acting as a welcoming steward in the Church, it may be possible for the Church to offer a personal steward’s welcome at certain peak times such as weekends in July and August. It is suggested that the presence of the steward, coupled with Church tours at set times, be promoted in the Church’s flyers and leaflets.
It is recommended that all stewards have received welcome training.
• A day training course is available specifically for Church stewards. This course is offered by the Church Tourism Network Wales (Tel: 029 2071 0014).
• An alternative would be for Churches to contact their local Council’s Museum’s Service where someone will have responsibility for providing advice and training to museum stewards and custodians.
• Another learning opportunity is the Welcome Host training course offered by tourism associations in Herefordshire and Shropshire at least once each year.
• A further alternative would be for the Church to contact a local attraction and negotiate their assistance, either through providing advice and assistance or through offering the Church Steward a place on their own staff welcome training (National Trust and/or English Heritage properties are particularly applicable).
Invitation to services
As part of the church’s mission, it seems essential to invite visitors to attend services, either those scheduled later in the week or about to start. For example, a simple notice explaining that Evensong is sung every day at 5.30pm and visitors would be welcomed to attend, instils a sense of inclusion and welcome.
Exhibitions and Events
Exhibitions allow the church to broaden its appeal to visitors, by demonstrating in more detail an aspect of the church itself, local heritage or a forth-coming event or festival in the community.
If the church is undergoing a programme of restoration of its fabric or a development programme, an exhibition is an effective medium to promote the programmes, its cost and to seek donations. It creates a sense of a community caring for its church and wanting to move forward. It might draw donations from visitors; if they have felt welcomed, included and had an enjoyable experience! If possible, it is important to keep exhibitions fresh by changing the subject regularly.
. Providing added value for visitors through the organization of exhibitions and or events is commendable. The type of exhibition that works best is those that relate to topics, which have mass appeal. Examples include a display of Wedding Dresses, a craft market in the Church, or an exhibition of photos (the village past and present, the village through the seasons etc.).
Exhibitions should be of high quality and should be displayed well. Visual displays are always the best and textual information should be kept to a minimum…pictures speak louder than words! Twenty well-presented photos are better than double the number of less well-presented photos. Usually the County Council will have an officer responsible for interpretation and these individuals can provide advice on what works well and what doesn’t work so well. Special events can attract very high numbers of visitors. These can include flower festivals, traditional village fetes, coffee mornings, BBQ’s, pig roasts, duck races and car boots. These events need to be arranged well in advance and should be well publicized.
Refreshments for visitors
The logistics of providing refreshments for visitors can be difficult, as many churches do not even have a supply of water. There are regulatory needs to be addressed as well – food & hygiene regulations and others. Not an element to taken on lightly but where refreshments are provided, it can provide both income as well as being a social enterprise, employing and training excluded or disadvantaged people.
However, the supply of refreshment need only be a jug of water and cordial. Many Churches in the Diocese are located in small isolated villages, which do not have a nearby shop. Many visitors are pleased to find a jug of water and bottle of cordial to ease their thirst. Equally important and well received is a bowl of water for dogs.
It may be possible for Churches with kitchen facilities to provide hot drinks for visitors at certain times. Similarly simple cakes, biscuits and chocolate. There are strict rules and regulations regarding the preparation and sale of food to the public, which must be adhered to.
Best Practice: All Saints Café, All Saints, Hereford: a social enterprise running a ‘commercial’ café offering an excellent menu of locally sourced and freshly prepared food and drink.
Not for the faint-hearted! But tower tours can be a good income-earner for raising funds. The excitement of viewing your town or village from above is irresistible!
Catering for different visitor needs. When providing the best possible welcome for a visitor it is again imperative to remember that there are many types of visitor and that they all have varied needs which the Church, if trying to adhere to best practice, should wherever possible try to cater for.
These groups include the physically disabled, partially sighted, blind, deaf and those visiting from overseas. Interpretation for these groups can include: an audio headset tour of the church (similar to that provided in the Church Tour leaflet); large print guidebooks and leaflets; Braille guidebooks & leaflets and guidebooks and leaflets in a variety of languages (again this is where using the visitor book to understand the origins of visitors can be extremely useful with regard to providing information such as this
Toilet facilities are essential
Use of energy efficient lighting; engagement in the Low carbon Congregations or Eco-Congregations initiatives
: Eco-Congregation, Light Fantastic and Congregations for a Low Carbon Future initiatives, the latter two being managed by the Marches Energy Agency.
Does your Church offer items for sale?
Do you offer visitor’s refreshments?
Do you have a community board?
Do you have a signposting board or publicise what else there is to see, do and stay in the area?
Do you have invitations for visitors to attend services?
Do you have a welcoming steward (either full or parttime?)
Do you organize a regular programme of exhibitions and events?
And finally, take time to approach, walk in and walk around the inside of your church, as if you are a visitor. Be self-critical, test your imagination, and challenge your senses.
Were you excited by what you saw?
How long did you stay in your church?
Did it provide an enriching experience?
If not, go back to the top and try again!