How to welcome

There are many reasons why people visit churches. History and heritage may be a factor. We can’t assume anything about people’s reasons for visiting, but we can give them a space in which they can take time away from the demands of the world, gain a new perspective on their lives, and encounter our faith and God.

In Genesis, Jacob declares, “Surely the Lord is in this place… this is none other than the house of God, and the gate of heaven”. In a busy and distracted world our churches have great potential to be places for quiet and reflection, stillness and prayer. Places where glimpses of the divine can be experienced.

But what is the experience of a visitor when they first set foot in your church? Ask someone who is not a regular worshipper to give their honest impressions of the building and its setting. Starting in the grounds and ending at the altar, these are some of the things to think about together.

Your churchyard

Is the seating in good shape and in such a position to enjoy the peacefulness of the churchyard and invite contemplation? Is the notice board smart and up to date with useful and interesting information?

The porch

As you walk through the porch, is there a bombardment of rotas, insurance certificates and churchyard regulations? While these are important, don’t let them take pride of place over welcoming words inviting visitors to share God’s presence within.

The entrance

Think about the atmosphere on entering your church (be sure to use all of your senses). What could be improved to enhance the ambience and so strengthen our response to God’s presence?

Is there a welcome leaflet, a guide to experiencing God, in the entrance? This could include something for children to do. Clive Fewins’ book Be A Church Detective: A Young Person’s Guide to Old Churches has some creative and helpful ideas.

Open for prayer?

Prayer stations, prayer trees, and votive stands are popular with visitors. Are these available in your church and easy to access? Some sentences on what prayer is can be a useful aid. Could you offer some simple prayer cards for people to take away with them?

Inside your church

Is there information about the font, pulpit and altar on display? Could you create a reflective guide for visitors as they walk around your church? Here’s one suggestion:

Listen carefully. What can you hear?
Do you hear footsteps, voices, traffic, music,
the cooing of pigeons? These ancient stones
have soaked up the prayers and music and
everyday sounds from ordinary people for hundreds of years; they have witnessed sombre tragedies
and great joys. Be glad to be part of an ancient tradition of faith which reaches back through time, and forwards into the future…

Words: The Revd Charles Chadwick. Photo: Steven Buckley