A strange title, you might say, for a very serious subject!

France is facing real challenges in terms of logistics: enabling many visitors during the Games in summer 2024 to have access to toilets, water points, transport options for athletes, etc. As Christians, we want above all to be there to help, to show that we are above all in service, ready to help. If all our churches and charities were to open their doors, this would meet an enormous need for our country! So are you ready to open your doors… and your toilets? 😉

The games offer a great opportunity for churches with buildings in “just the right place” to open their doors as a welcome center.

This means providing game spectators with a place to :

  • have a rest
  • find a welcoming team and refreshments
  • obtain advice and assistance based on local knowledge
  • see the Games on a bigger screen
  • access the Internet
  • and even more, depending on possibilities

This article explains what can be done and how. It’s based on the experience of the churches that opened their doors to welcome visitors at previous Games, but it’s not a plan that prescribes what needs to be done. It’s up to you and your church to decide, and to consider these recommendations and ideas as a source of inspiration.

Where should your reception center be located?

The venue you offer must be very close – very, very close – to the places where visitors to the Games will pass through or gather. Ideally, it should be located along the main pedestrian route. Otherwise people won’t find it and won’t visit it, no matter how good your center is.

However, there will be exclusion zones very close to the Games venues where this service will not be available.

Your center doesn’t have to be your church building. You can also use an empty warehouse or other facilities.

What can you offer?

A reception desk
Your welcome desk will be the first point of contact, designed to invite, engage in conversation and inform your guests, whether they’re members of your community or visitors.

It must be :

  • Easily visible – well-lit and with clear signage. If you don’t have a reception desk, create one with tables and tablecloths and decorate it with a Games theme.
  • An easy first step . Visitors are likely to be apprehensive, so plenty of “normal” visitor information and a “what we offer here” leaflet should be distributed.
  • Staff should be friendly and wear name badges, smiling and making people feel at ease. The team should be made up of at least two people: one to stay at reception while the other accompanies guests to the services available inside.

You’ll have the information people need at their fingertips, such as :

  • Guides to local attractions
  • Maps and transport information
  • Restaurant listings and takeaway menus (create a guide based on food style and price range)
  • Information about local churches and their services
  • Olympic venues and calendar of events
  • Inquiries about denominational churches
  • A laptop with Internet access – because many questions will require an instant Google answer.

Speaking their language
Many visitors will not speak French or English as their main language.

That’s why :

  • Look for people with language skills in your church or other nearby churches.
  • If they can’t be there, make sure they can at least be reached by phone.
  • NEVER give out the translator’s telephone number, unless you provide a temporary cell phone. Instead, make the call from a church phone on behalf of the person who needs translation help and, once the connection is established, allow the translator to dialogue with them.
  • For on-site translators, add the words “Je parle …” (I speak …) to their badge.
  • If necessary, add signage in different languages on site (e.g. toilets, etc.).

Consider setting up a multilingual instant messaging system on the reception desk computer, which visitors can use to obtain information.

Refreshment area
Make it a place where people want to go and feel at home. . Remember to decorate it with an Olympic theme – remove the church notices and children’s club drawings.
Free or paid? You’ll need to define a realistic policy on freebies, and make sure that your generosity won’t be abused if you opt for them.
The menu . Keep it simple and varied.

  • Clearly display what’s on offer and at what price.
  • Manage your inventory. If you’re located in an Olympic transport corridor, you’ll need to plan your supplies carefully, as delivery vehicles may not be able to access your church for the duration of the Games.
  • In the lounge area, offer free publications and newspapers to read. Think about including multi-ethnic newspapers.
  • Use fair trade products.
  • If you use disposable cups, opt for recyclable ones.

Sanitary
Your toilets should be clearly marked, accessible, clean and “above average”, with at least one fully wheelchair-accessible toilet.

  • Keep in mind “welcoming sanitary facilities” and not “public toilets”, which means soft paper (recyclable of course), nice towels, scented soap, potpourri, etc.
  • Set up a frequent cleaning schedule and assign someone to check and restock the area with toiletries on a regular basis.
  • Post “Wash your hands” signs.
  • Post signs indicating who to report problems to (blocked toilets, stock shortages, etc.).
  • Provide sanitary products in women’s toilets and appropriate receptacles in each stall.
  • Remember to use air fresheners.

If you’re hoping to attract young families, make sure changing tables are available (preferably in both men’s and women’s washrooms), and also consider creating a dedicated breastfeeding area.

Quiet area/prayer room
Because of the noise and bustle of the crowds, many will want access to a quiet space or relaxation area.

You can also consider

  • Prayer rooms with counselors to pray during your events or 24 hours a day. These resources will be available to all those (visitors or regulars) who feel the need to pray.
  • A box in which you can collect written prayer requests that can be forwarded confidentially to your church’s prayer team.
  • If you’re in a main pedestrian corridor, consider setting up an outdoor prayer station.
  • Information on Alpha courses – for adults and young people
  • Christian resources, such as new testaments with athlete testimonials or Christian books

Literature table
This is an excellent opportunity to offer a small range of non-denominational resources. For example:

  • Children’s Bibles and Bible storybooks
  • Objects with a sports or Olympic theme
  • Bibles and New Testaments on the theme of sport
  • Accessible paperbacks with an introduction to Christianity, such as Pourquoi JĂ©sus? or Le livre de Y. ?
  • Free self-service items
  • A short presentation of your church

Some practical considerations:

  • Set up a cash float and appoint a cash handler.
  • You’ll need a cash register.
  • Have people who know the resources you’re going to sell, and who are fully trained on the equipment you’re going to use.
  • If possible, use cloth or paper bags rather than plastic.
  • Create flyers for upcoming events that you can hand out to visitors.
  • Think about any “special offers” you might have for visitors.

Internet access
Today, Internet access can be a “plus” for any international traveler. Your visitor center can be a place where visitors do one or both of the following:

  1. Use wifi free of charge on their own laptops, phones and other portable devices.
  2. Use computer workstations or laptops connected to the Internet.

Think big and organize an Internet cafĂ© . You’ll already have the refreshments. To move on to the next step, consider the following:

  • Depending on the size of your space, install several wireless routers to ensure strong signals throughout.
  • Contact your ISP to find out how much data transfer is included in your package. If necessary, improve your level of service during the Olympic Games.
  • Consider upgrading your internet service to the fastest speed available.
  • Remember to log all users in/out to manage usage and maintain reasonable queues. (A sign-in/sign-out sheet to record the user’s name, position and time of arrival may be useful).
  • Create a password for all computer workstations.
  • Create a password for the wireless network, and print out instructions for connecting to the network on small cards that can be handed out to potential users.
  • Install software on all computers (you can use “parental controls”) to block websites related to pornography, gambling, addictions and other illicit behavior, and/or block access to inappropriate sites on your network.

For computer workstations and laptops:

  • Make sure that all equipment is secure during the day and at night (you can use laptop locks or specially designed computer cabinets; or make sure that computer stations are always visible to volunteers).
  • Remove all private files and data from computers.
  • Do not allow users to log in as “administrator”.
  • Reinforce security controls.
  • Do not allow Internet browsers to save passwords or form data.

For laptop docking stations (stations where visitors can plug in and use their own laptops) :

  • Make sure that a surge-protected power supply is easily accessible (install a power strip on the table, for example, so that users don’t have to crawl under the table to plug into the wall socket).
  • If you make a printer available for free printing, be sure to establish rules for printing (for example, specify the maximum number of pages to be printed free of charge before printing is billed).
  • Pay particular attention to the screen saver and home page you define for your computer workstations. Choose your church’s logo/site, the Ensemble2024 logo, or consider designing a special web page on your church’s site, which can be set up as a home screen.
  • Consider creating a list of favorites/bookmarks that will be useful to your visitors, with links to the following sites
    • Cards
    • Local food, drink and entertainment
    • Local stores
    • Accommodation near the Olympic venues
    • Tourist information and popular attractions
    • Information on the official Paris 2024 website
    • Information about your church and other local churches
    • Parisian transport
  • Clearly display basic rules such as :
    • Limiting computer time
    • Reminder not to save files on computers
    • Restricting or banning music and video downloads
    • Restriction or ban on playing video games
    • A clear notice that the church is not responsible for any damage to their equipment.
  • Consider setting up computer or video game stations for the kids while they wait for their parents, or as a separate service; you can capitalize on the sports theme with different video games and perhaps use the Nintendo Switch or xBox console.

Monitoring and maintenance :

  • We’ll need at least one volunteer to watch over the cybercafĂ©, issue passwords, sign in and out and monitor the area.
  • Train a volunteer to reset the wireless router and modem, and use the printer.
  • Prepare a small manual for volunteers, including the following elements
    • Instructions for resetting the wireless router and modem
    • Instructions for restarting computers and running antivirus scans
    • Instructions for using the printer
    • How to contact your Internet service provider
    • Names and contact details of volunteers who can provide technical advice (“troubleshooters”).
    • Have at least one designated convenience store attendant on site or available by phone.
    • Clean keyboards and mice throughout the day with antiseptic wipes.
    • Provide antiseptic (not antibacterial) wipes near each computer and docking station, and encourage visitors to use them before using the computer stations.
    • Use antivirus software to scan machines daily, or more often depending on usage.
    • Make sure paper is always available for the printer.

Large-screen TVs
People will be interested in watching the Games and keeping in touch. So install a large-screen TV in the refreshment area or elsewhere.

  • Make sure it’s clearly visible, and that the sound is loud enough for those watching, but not so loud as to distract others.
  • Make sure the available space is arranged in such a way that people watching TV do not interfere with movement around the room.

To broadcast France TĂ©lĂ©visions’ coverage of the Games to the public, all you need is a TV set and internet/satellite access. You’ll also need to declare the broadcast to SACEM, which may incur a cost.

Mini-Concerts / Sketches
If the venue is suitable and you think your potential guests will appreciate it, consider organizing mini-concerts, theatrical performances or similar activities.

  • Keep in mind your target audience – interests, age, ethnicity – and choose your event accordingly.
  • Make sure you have adequate stage space, lighting and sound equipment for what you’re planning.
  • Artists/speakers may have CDs or other items for sale; be prepared to do so.
  • Consider offering an autograph or photo signing period.

Photo booth
A portable photo studio can be a real eye-catcher for passers-by. It can attract children and families, as well as tourists, who are always on the lookout for photo opportunities.

It could be something as simple as “Have your photo taken with an Olympic torch”, provided you can borrow one. It would be a real attraction.

We can go even further:

  • Acquire/build the necessary accessories – a model of the Olympic flame (remove or reasonable facsimile), a podium for awarding Olympic medals, appropriate clothing for the torchbearer or athlete, ribbons/medals.
  • Create attractive backdrops – jubilant crowds in the street, etc.
  • If you know people who are creative, ask them to create cut-out photo boards (remove faces) of Olympic athletes in action. The more photo options you have, the more people will come back to your site.

Plan your photo delivery method .

  • Let people use their own cameras.
  • Use a digital camera and printer to supply photos on site.
  • Use a digital camera, secure participants’ contact details, then e-mail the photos at a later date.
  • A combination of the two options above – provide a copy at the event and transmit the photo electronically for later use.

Keep it simple:

  • Recruit photographers (you don’t need professionals) and do a few test shots with members of all ages in your church.
  • Make it fun!
  • If you wish to use the photos for your own advertising, you will need to obtain prior written authorization.
  • With the exception of the previous point, all electronic or paper copies of the photos must be destroyed afterwards.

Pin trading
Pin trading has become the official sport of the Games, and there are many fans. Pins are one of the easiest souvenirs for visitors to collect and remember their Olympic Games experience.

Pin Trading in your church :
If your church would like to play an active role in the Olympic pin exchange phenomenon, here are two options to consider:

  1. Reserve a space in the church for the pin exchange. You’ll need to advertise it on the spot as “the place” to meet.
  2. Buy a selection of pins and set up your own trading post to stimulate interest.

Either option will be effective if you offer other activities that will attract tourists/visitors to your church during the Games. The pin exchange has become one of the most effective strategies for sharing your faith during the Games. It establishes a point of contact and starts a conversation.

Where can I buy pins?
There are countless pin sites on the Internet:

  • The official event store offers a wide selection of official pins.
  • They are also available in various stores (e.g. Cultura, Fnac, Claire’s) and at Paris 2024 stands.

Advertising
If you’re willing to go to all that trouble, then you’ll want the world to know you’re there. Here are a few ideas.

Reaching visitors :
Create attractive flyers (download the Ensemble2024 logo).

  • Ask for them to be distributed to hotels, restaurants, etc. in the area. Offer to put their flyers/cards in your reception area.
  • Try placing flyers in hotel rooms, or at least at the reception desk of the main hotels in your area.
  • Get in touch with local tourist information centers to see if they can promote your visitor center and its resources.
  • If your target group is young people or young adults, youth hostels and local campsites can be a key resource!

Be visible: Clearly display who you are and what you offer, even if you have free wi-fi.

Reaching the premises :

  • Put up posters in shopping malls, restaurants, cafĂ©s, etc.
  • Ask members of your church to talk about your welcome center and invite people there.
  • If possible, ask permission to promote children’s activities in local schools before the vacations.
  • Partner with other churches/agencies to expand your contact base.
  • Local newspapers can also be used, but you need to plan ahead as many of them require a long lead time for publication.

Social networks such as Facebook and Instagram can also be used to disseminate information.

The workforce
The success of your visitor center will ultimately depend on the quality of the people who work there.

  • Solicit members of your own congregation, their friends and members of other churches to work with you.
  • Invite a team of foreign missionaries to serve with you
  • Don’t forget that you need people who speak languages other than English.
  • Give good training so people know what’s expected of them and how to do it. Use role-playing games and make them fun.
  • Make them recognizable – Ensemble2024 T-shirts or polo shirts, for example.
  • Give all volunteers clear name badges indicating their role.

Security
Don’t overlook the safety issues that arise when you open your doors to more people.

We suggest :

  • Have a reception area that constantly monitors comings and goings, and reports any suspicious or disruptive behavior to a designated person in charge.
  • Draw up a standard response plan to deal with suspicious or disruptive behavior, seeking advice from the local police if necessary.
  • Make sure fire exits are clearly marked.
  • Ensure fire extinguisher maintenance is up to date.
  • Limit the number of inputs/outputs used; secure all unused inputs/outputs (but do not lock or block emergency exits).
  • Provide volunteers trained in first aid.
  • If catering services are offered, plan to have a food safety-certified volunteer on site.
  • Photos/videos of participants may only be taken with their permission. Written authorization must be obtained for all photos/videos to be used for advertising or other purposes.

Accessibility for all
You want your visitor center to be accessible and welcoming to all.

Civil liability and insurance
Make sure you have adequate general liability insurance. Check with your insurer that any accident/incident related to your Games program will be fully covered by your insurance policy. Reinforce if necessary.