When a church opens its doors for the first time one of the most common responses from visitors is, “Oh I’ve gone past this place on so many occasions and always wanted to see inside but it’s never open.” So if there is any one answer to this question, it’s probably ‘More people than you think’.
The people who visit churches and their reasons for doing so vary widely. They range from local residents – longstanding ones and those new to the area alike – to tourists from far-flung destinations; from enthusiasts who already know about the church and its history to members of the wider public who came across it by chance; from busy people snatching a quiet moment during their lunch hour to the unemployed. Incidentally, don’t forget about disabled visitors – they’re potentially represented by every possible category. If you’ve not yet thought about whether your church is accessible to them, take a look this guidance explaining how to take the first steps
Don’t underestimate the importance of tourism – it’s the fifth largest industry in the UK, worth over £126.9bn every year.[i] Seventy three percent of British adults went to a heritage property, including churches, abbeys and cathedrals, in 2013.[ii] Estimates suggest that 35 million visits are made to churches every year. Many people are brought to churches by researching their ancestry – another boom industry.
Churches have an ability unmatched by any other kind of destination to continue their engagement with visitors by embracing them through the worshipping community. Even non-worshippers can develop a close association with a church if engaged through initiatives like a friends’ group. These links can be very durable and span great distances. Also, don’t forget that people who enjoy their visit and develop an affinity for your church might well show their appreciation by becoming donors.
You might be reading this and thinking, ‘All this is very well if you’re in the centre of London but I’m out in the suburbs and there’s no one around during the week’. If so, take heart – there could actually be a big untapped demand for your church. Take a look at this account of how a parish in Zone 6 transformed their church from a dead zone to a hub of activity.
Some parishes say, “There’s no point in us opening because there’s nothing to see in our church.” This is very rarely true – you don’t have to be St Paul’s Cathedral to attract tourists! Every church has something to offer. You can find out more in the interpreting and celebrating your building section about how to discover more about its architecture, history and associations and to make them a draw for visitors.
Find out more
Introduction: who is this toolkit for?
Considering how you interpret and celebrate your building.
Why we should open up?
When and how to open?
Who wants to come in?
Making people feel welcome.
[i] UK Tourism Statistics 2014; [ii] DCMS, January 2014