A NEW research project to install digital counters in churches has found that thousands more people are stopping and spending time inside the buildings than has previously been recorded.
It was found that at one church in Lincolnshire, Revesby, which is usually kept locked, in just three months last autumn, 1729 people passed through the porch and tried the door of the church.
Elsewhere it was found that, while just a handful of people wrote in the visitors’ book, the real number of visitors was far higher.
The Great Church Visitor Count is a project launched by the National Churches Trust (NCT). It seeks to help churches gather accurate data to help bolster applications for grants and external funding.
The NCT’s chief executive, Claire Walker, said: “We know that millions of people visit parish churches each year, but although data on the number of people going to church services is available, there is no accurate recording of other visitors.
“Our Great Church Visitor Count project will help churches in a number of ways. Accurate visitor numbers will help support grant applications from churches for repairs to funders such as the National Heritage Lottery Fund (NHLF).
“The project will also help provide hard evidence to local authorities and tourist boards that churches attract many people interested in history and heritage, and should be a central part of their tourism offer. The more churches that can supply accurate visitor data, the more we can show just how extensively these buildings are being visited, and how important they are.”
Digital counters were installed in ten churches in Lincolnshire last year as part of an NHLF project.
The statistics gathered about the number of visitors to St Lawrence’s, Revesby, which is usually kept locked, served to persuade the Rector, the Revd Andrew Roberts, to open up the church.
“We did not believe that people were really interested on our church,” Mr Roberts said this week. “Our doors were closed apart from Sunday services.
“We installed a counter in the porch entrance and left it for a few weeks to monitor footfall to the church, and were staggered at the number of visitors that approached the church door. This evidence persuaded us to open on a regular basis.”
Linda Patrick, who is managing the project, said that in every church where a digital counter has been installed so far, “there was amazement at the high readings. . . The digital counters showed far more people actually passed the door and used the building than was ever anticipated.”
At St Mary’s, Horncastle, in Lincolnshire, just 378 people signed the visitor book in 2018. Yet a digital counter recorded that 17,611 people entered the church in just four months.
The counters record everyone going into the church, from churchgoers to cleaners and flower arrangers, but these numbers can be deducted from the counter figure to give a clearer idea of the number of visitors. The project will analyse the gap between the number of visitors who sign the church visitor book and the number of people who are recorded by the counter
The National Churches Trust has already installed ten counters in churches including: St Peter’s, Heversham, in Cumbria; St James’s, Jacobstowe, in Devon; St Matthew’s, Skegness, in Lincolnshire; St Mary’s, Lydiard Tregoze, in Wiltshire; and St Augustine’s, Hedon, in Yorkshire. A further 30 counters will be installed at churches and chapels in Wales and Herefordshire later in 2019.
Churches that have installed their own digital counter are urged to contact the Trust and join the project, by emailing Linda on firstname.lastname@example.org . The Trust can also supply digital counters at the reduced rate of £140 plus VAT.