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Booking the church

26 April 2013

Like various other churches who contact you, we are developing our church building to enable more use by local people. Our focus is on worship, as you mentioned recently, but we are wary of those new uses' overrunning that focus. Do you have suggestions that are not just about the self-interest of churchgoers?

MOST churches have times when nothing happens in their buildings; so there is an opportunity to create good management of your church to maintain its focus on worship.

Establish a few principles. First, you could establish that Sundays are primarily church days, with occasional bookings if they fit in. There can then be availability on all the other days (not that I would encourage a free-for-all).

The church, through the administrator, clergy, or PCC, can identify the main festivals of the liturgical year - those that do not fall on Sundays - and, at the beginning of each year, the church can "book" the necessary days for those festivals.

If your church regularly has funerals that might have an impact on some bookings, then make this clear on your booking forms. Most groups who are local to the church will have great respect for funerals, and will not mind losing a week's booking; equally, you may find that undertakers, when booking funerals, can also offer some flexibility.

Weddings in church tend usually to be on Saturdays, and are often booked months in advance. This should create no problems with events booked on Saturdays for the church or for local groups. It just means that sometimes the later arrivals have second choice over the date.

If you expect some day-long events from local organisations or businesses, ensure that there are no clashes with the smaller user-groups, perhaps keeping certain weekdays free from small groups so that day events remain possible. Once a group has made a booking, that booking should be honoured.

It is reasonable that small groups, even for recurring activities, book on a monthly basis, and make a deposit for their booking. This will reduce the likelihood that they will drop weekly activities on a whim, and fail to pay for "implied bookings". "So-and-so is always here on Wednesdays" is not a booking: a filled-out booking form with a deposit is.

Setting up a good financial system, with pre-set rates, will help to keep bookings in order, too: only those who pay in advance can book space; only those who leave everything clean and in its proper place get their deposits back; and only people who have paid the fee get to use the church. In this way, you won't end up with "bad debts".

Also, have a clear understanding that, after every activity or event, the church has to be returned to looking like church: chairs facing the chancel, the holy table with its weekday covering, and the general layout welcoming to those who would like to drop in to pray. To return the church to church could be made part of the conditions of use for each event organiser. Only when a non-church activity is in progress should the place look different, and, even at these times, you may keep the chancel in proper order.

And, of course, do hand out a leaflet telling other groups why the altar, the furniture, the font, and the various fixtures and fittings are special, so that they are able also to respect what is worthy of re- spect because of its function in worship.

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