The key: promotion

11 October 2013

We are fund-raising for building works: we need repairs to be done, and want to install a lavatory, to make the building more usable. But how do we get people to come and use our church?

THE reasons why people enter churches are very varied. And there are ways to capitalise on the various interests, so that people will come in more, and local groups use it more.

Be aware that people coming in to use the church want to do what they want to do: in other words, you cannot tell them how to organise their activity. But you can tell them how, in the context of their activity, they can respect the building, and its function as a church.

I have been to churches where all community activity in the church is organised and run by church members, as a protective step, and this limits both who will come along, and how they use the space.

Respect for the building and its function as a church is best summarised in guidelines that are given to each group or organisation that uses it. Clearly, a Grade I listed church with ancient fittings is unsuitable for indoor sports, but an unlisted hall-shaped building may be. Put the appropriate list of possible uses in the guidelines.

There are a wide variety of low-impact uses that can take place in ornate churches: corporate events, thinking days, training days, knitting circles, lectures, exhibitions, fêtes and markets, drop-in advice sessions, AA groups, banquets, craft sessions, and many, many more. For church buildings that are more robust, the list of possibilities is much longer, and can stretch as far as a youth club, badminton, and indoor sports.

Engage in promotion. Use photos of various activities that happen in the church, and produce a brief text that lists possible uses. Plan a publicity campaign. You could print a leaflet, but the main method of publicity will be word of mouth. Arrange for members to drop in on local groups, ostensibly to give them a leaflet telling them what is possible, but really for the visitors to tell the leaders of the group how they might use the church. And enclose a summary of the letting fees, which should be realistically budgeted alongside the costs of running the building.

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Remember to start conversations with outside people from the point at which they stand, not where the church stands. So, not: "We are trying to get people to use our church," but: "Do you need more space? We may be able to help you."

One church counted up the volunteering hours of members of the congregation; there were hundreds of hours per year spent in as many as 25 local groups. Each of these is a first point of contact. So review possibilities with congregation members, and encourage them to talk to the groups with whom they already have a relationship. There may also be members who work in local businesses, and that again gives a first contact. And use contacts with the local council: both staff and councillors.

Linking with local people in relation to their needs and interests is equally an excellent strategy for evangelism and church growth. It is surprising how many people who come into the church for a secular activity eventually become interested in the religious one.

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