Across Europe, churches and other religious buildings are being increasingly used for purposes other than worship. Extended use includes not only social outreach and community activities such as concerts, conferences and exhibitions, but also the conversion of parts of buildings for secular purposes.

Places of worship already attract large numbers of visitors – Europe’s two most popular sites are both churches – Notre-Dame (13 million annually) and the Sacré-Coeur (11 million).

However, the potential of the treasures held in smaller buildings and which merit the title of the ‘Europe’s Biggest Museum’ is still largely underexploited.

The sector is witnessing a sharp rise in local associations, often including non church goers, dedicated to the support of their church building, its contents and its history.

These developments rely essentially on volunteer effort.  A survey carried out in 2011 by the National Churches Trust with the help of McKinsey counted 1.4 million in the UK, by far and away the largest volunteer group in the country.
This contribution to strengthening civil society is particularly important in rural areas where churches are often the last remaining community building.

Current funding and management structures of this heritage – whether by individual parish (UK and Netherlands), by local municipality (France and Belgium) or by a dedicated organisation financed by a church tax (most of the rest of Europe) – are all coming under increasing pressure as the traditional implicit support for religious buildings is reduced.
To maintain funding an explicit case based on social and economic value now needs to be made.
At the same time, management structures, often under-resourced and having to accommodate to the conflicting needs of different stakeholders, are having to adapt to new methods of working.

FRH sets out to:

  • Understand the challenges facing religious heritage and the various measures that need to be taken to help it adapt successfully to the needs of the 21st century.
  • Build a Network of support organisations across Europe to share expertise and best practice.
  • Convince Policy Makers in Brussels of the economic and social importance of religious heritage.
  • Promote appropriate pan-European Projects