The Visitor Experience

THE VISITOR EXPERIENCE

This includes:

• Visitor’s table

• Visitor’s book

• Church guide

• Interpretation

• Uniqueness & distinctiveness

• The Christian Message and its Mission

• Quiet area for prayer

The Visitor Experience -

Interpretation

Interpretation in the Church is important to ensure that visitors get the most from their visit. The aim of providing interpretation in and around the Church is threefold:

(1) To ensure that there is a means for the Church to convey its key messages convey to visitors.

(2) To maximize the enjoyment and understanding of the visitor.

(3) To encourage repeat visits. At a highly visual point near to the Church door a table should be provided which has:  

Extensive local tourism information, a copy of local destination guide, other leaflets appropriate to the place and area

The Visitor’s Table is a means of directing visitors to other local attractions. It is not a substitute for the local TIC, but can provide some basic local tourism information. It also gives an impression that the visitor has been thought about, in providing useful information. It reflects the fact that the church cares about local places to visit and is part of a ‘corporate’ network of attractions, places to eat and stay. 

Community Board. Churches are very good at telling visitors about the dead. They are less effective at telling them about the living. A community board displayed in a corner of the Church can help bring the Church and community to life. Photos of Parish events with captions underneath are effective and well received.

Signposting Board. Churches have an important role to play within the community, not least to signpost other services within the locality. A board can be displayed which highlights what else there is to see and do in the area, where visitors can stay, where they can get something to eat or walk the dog, where the nearest public toilet is located, the times of local buses and the location of the nearest bus-stop and so on. The board can be accompanied by a small leaflet stand, which carries flyers for local events, attractions and services.

Best Practice: Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, Suffolk: Tourism boxes containing a Bible, a book of prayers, a leaflet of Christian beliefs, a leaflet about the church and one about local attractions. In a plastic wallet were well preserved sheets introducing the local area, a map and local information on shops, a filling station, pubs, restaurants, toilet facilities, places to stay and where local produce can be bought

A Visitor's Book is essential; proactive use of the visitor’s book information can be used to invite previous visitors to new events; use of visitor information can inform future visitor activity  Whilst not a direct means of interpretation, a visitor’s book is an important tool. This book should be used to collect information about visitors to the Church. The majority of Churches do not really think about or use the information collected in the visitors book. As a minimum ensure that you collect names, addresses and postcodes. This will enable the Church to understand where the majority of visitors originate. Simple analysis of this information can highlight valuable information. If key trends arise with regard to the source of visitors this can be used to target Church event publicity.

Make sure that the Tourist Information Centres in these areas are sent a supply of posters promoting your Church’s flower festival, fete or garden party. Some Churches have used this information to send Christmas cards to an ad-hoc selection of visitors and others have used them to send information on genealogy.

Best Practice: Claverley - Genealogy and churchyard survey: The audit of the churchyard graves is collated on a database. The names in the visitor’s book are cross-referenced periodically to the names on this database. If a name matches, a letter is sent to that visitor, asking them if they would like further information – names, date of burial, etc.  

Church Tour Leaflets. Whilst detailed guidebooks have a place, there is a proportion of visitors who only need a simple but informative leaflet guide to a church. It is therefore prudent to provide a short A4 or A4 1/3rd folded leaflet on the Church. This should provide a brief history of the Church and should ideally point out the major points of note and features within the Church and Churchyard. Many Churches suggest a small donation charge for a leaflet of this nature. Remember that the person picking up this type of leaflet will probably have limited time to spend in the Church and will appreciate information on the more quirky points of the building. Why is that door so high up in the wall? Why does that wall look like that? Who used to sit in the front pew? Have you seen the…etc. The leaflet should enable the visitor to be easily guided around the church, using a simple floor plan as a guide. To direct a visitor’s attention to a feature on the south side of the north-east transept is both dis-orientating and confusing to a lay person!  

Church Guidebooks. Many Churches provide the visitor with an option of purchasing a detailed guidebook. This guidebook should be of the highest quality that the Church can afford. The book should be colourful and eyecatching, even if funds preclude the booklet being produced at a printers it is still possible to produce high-quality colourful material using a standard home computer. This type of guidebook is usually very comprehensive in the information it provides, offering great detail with regard to the history and architecture of the Church. Remember, a few simple pictures, photos and graphics often convey a message much more effectively than several sentences.

Best Practice:

1. Acton Scott Church leaflet: This is a dual purpose free leaflet – as a promotional leaflet in TICs, local accommodation and other local attractions, and as a simple guide to the church. It includes a readable and anecdotal list of about 15 features in the church related to a floor plan for ease of reference; times of church services; and how to find the church – a map of the area. It is cheap to produce being photocopied and is very engaging.

2. Stokesay Church: This church has a similar leaflet. The church has evidence that by offering visitors a ‘pack’ of free goodies – a leaflet, a bookmark and a prayer card, the visitor’s donations have increased significantly. They seem to appreciate this gift and reflect this in increased donations.

3. St Peter’s Church, Peterchurch: Churchyard Trail describing 14 features of varying interest in this churchyard; sold for 10p.

4. Eardisland Church: a simple free map of the village, outlining many interesting features, provided “with the compliments of Eardisland Church”.

Interpretation Boards. It is estimated that we remember 10% of what we hear, 50% of what we hear and see and 90% of what we hear, see and do!

Whilst it may be difficult to offer the visitor something to do, you can tickle their senses and perhaps pose a question or two to engage them and get them thinking about themselves.

An introductory panel stating, “Welcome, you may find something here to interest, move and even possibly change you”.

Some Churches find it effective to provide small interpretation boards at certain points around the Church. These boards point out the major features of note. These boards should be sympathetic to their surroundings, and should be short, succinct, clear and legible. Make sure that they are placed in areas that are easily accessible to visitors…don’t expect them to climb through pews to reach them or move tables etc.

Some churches place modest and non-compromising boards at the strategic features in the church (high altar, font, pulpit, etc) to explain the significance of each feature (baptism, communion, for example) and its function in the church. Hereford Cathedral has adopted this form of interpretation. Handheld interpretation boards.

‘Paddles’ or hand-held interpretation boards are an equally effective means of interpreting the Church for visitors. A similar tour to that placed in a ‘Church Tour Leaflet’ (see above) is appropriate.  

Uniqueness and Distinctiveness

Each church should seek to identify and interpret the features that are particular to their church. This may be architectural, links with famous person, a building feature (a bell tower, very distinctive to Herefordshire), a historical event or other peculiarity. By highlighting these features, the visitor’s experience is enhanced. 

The Christian Message and its Mission

Prayer sheets, leaving hymn numbers up from the previous service demonstrate an active church, A Bible on the lectern open at a key passage; explanation/interpretation of church features (altar, font, pulpit, lectern, etc); reflections or prayers at regular times after a particular national or local crisis or incident

Best Practice: St Margaret’s Church, Acton Scott, Shropshire: Points to Ponder Sheet, outlining that people have worshipped in this place since 1291 and to encourage visitors to sit down and just spend a short time to ponder – their own lives, their loved ones, friends and acquaintances.  

Quiet area for prayer

Signposting at the entrance, access to a Bible and prayer book, a short prayer; prayer request board; candles & sand tray.

People visit churches for very many reasons. To fulfill the church’s mission, there is a need to provide a reminder to visitors that churches are sacred places. To support this mission, an area for quiet prayer or personal reflection should be set aside. The provision of a prayer book and a bible should be made, should a visitor seek to read a passage of the scriptures. Be inclusive in a sign that says “Here is a place to be silent, to think or to pray”. Visitors might wish to mark their visit by lighting a candle, perhaps to remember a loved one, past or present.  

Checklist

Do you have a visitor’s table?

Do you have a visitor’s book?

Does the visitor’s book capture names, addresses and postcodes of visitors?

Do you undertake periodic analysis of the visitor’s book to assist with making promotional decisions and with decisions regarding say, the language of church literature?

Do you have a colourful guidebook, which has a good mix of text and graphics/photo’s?

Do you have a short Church Tour leaflet?

Do you offer interpretation boards at strategic points within the Church?

Are these boards sympathetic to their surroundings? (Size, colour, accessibility etc).

Do you offer hand-held interpretation boards (paddles)?

Do you offer interpretation for children, e.g. church trails and quizzes?

Do you provide an audio headset tour?

Do you offer large-print literature?

Do you offer literature in Braille?

Do you provide literature in a variety of different languages? 


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