Small stone chapel set in Cumbrian mountain scenery on a sunny day.
Wonderful for walkers, churches are cool in summer and dry in the rain. A welcome spot for a cuppa! Cautley Chapel nestles in the Cumbrian mountains, and is open everyday © Jayne Potts
Wonderful for walkers, churches are cool in summer and dry in the rain. A welcome spot for a cuppa! Cautley Chapel nestles in the Cumbrian mountains, and is open everyday © Jayne Potts

Discover the Wonder of the UK’s Religious Heritage

By Sarah Crossland, Church Tourism Manager, National Churches Trust

Stories are wrapped up in a building; its use, adaptation, and renewal of sacred spaces over centuries of social, economic and cultural change make historic churches exciting places to visit. They are amazing buildings, with fascinating stories and great art. All this, set within our wonderful countryside, alongside market squares or as oases of calm in busy towns and cities.

For this reason the National Churches Trust has developed ExploreChurches, a high-quality resource for visitors and churches. Through regular themed lists, events and social media activity we promote a collection of places to visit, each full of stories and things to see.

ExploreChurches is growing well, with additional features and a new design scheduled for launch in September 2018. We hope ExploreChurches will become the preferred resource to discover a love for churches and a longing to explore them, as well as the spot to find all the practical information needed to visit.

But there is work to do and issues to overcome to help churches be tourism ready:

We need churches to be open or accessible

Too many visitors find locked doors, or are dissuaded from engaging by a poor welcome. These are lost opportunities to share heritage, engage support, and perhaps change hearts and minds.

We need great content

We struggle to get high resolution, beautiful images and film of churches, showing their must see features, people enjoying the space, and setting them in their surroundings.
We also need short, snappy, welcoming and engaging text. Churches sometimes have so much heritage to share they can overwhelm a casual visitor.

We need the tourism industry to take churches seriously

The tourism, heritage and church sectors often speak different languages. We need to talk tourism if we are going to encourage all to promote churches properly. We need accurate visitor figures and clear, reliable visitor data.

We need churches to up their online game

Potential visitors search online for places to visit, most using a smartphone or tablet.
Most churches have an online presence, but many don't include basic information such as their address, opening times or facilities (for example parking, restrooms). Where churches have accounts or websites, they need to be linked to tourism sites to share information more widely so tourists can find them online.

To rise to the challenge we are currently running the Great Interpretations pilot project in Lincolnshire. Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, it will trial volunteer training (in tourism and interpretation, photography and film making), test targeted marketing campaigns, visitor counting and more.

We also offer tourism, welcome, interpretation and publicity training to groups of churches, Dioceses and others across the country.

Tourism is not the raison d'être of any place of worship. If taken seriously and done properly, it can engage new audiences with the church's heritage and mission. But many churches still need to take the first steps. We hope that through ExploreChurches and regional projects like Great Interpretations they will take them with confidence and tell their stories with pride.

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