Why travel with a church group when there are so many companies that offer tours to any place in the world, from the Arctic Circle to Antarctica?
To answer that question we must look at the purpose and objective of your trip. The purposes of church travel programs are as varied as the types of cookies in a bakery. Let’s look at some major reasons to travel together:
Why Form a Travel Ministry?
Here are a few points to encourage your religious organization to create or expand its travel ministry:
- Build a stronger bond between active members who may not interact on a regular basis due to age, marital status, committee involvement or focus. People can be so busy involved in their own volunteer projects in your organization. Take them out of the normal setting and get them on a bus, train, plane or ship to get time to stop and enjoy one another. This will lead to even more active members as they share their projects and get other members to join them.
- Bring together the generations, away from the confines of the church pews and age-related classes, worship times or interests, to join together on a motorcoach, train, plane or ship. This can take place on a one-day tour to share interests or longer trip where the generations will have time to chat and develop an understanding of each other.
- Set up a travel fund that can be used for members who want to travel but cannot do so financially—singles, widows, seniors, etc. This may be the most rewarding thing your organization can do in outreach. An example: A Bible college was offering a study and fellowship tour to Greece and Turkey, “The Steps of St Paul.” An elderly donor could no longer travel but wanted to give the gift of travel to a student. She donated the travel cost for a deserving student to go in her place.
- Support missions or missionary families and organizations by traveling to their part of the world and participating in projects that will encourage the missionaries, help others and give you a great feeling of fulfillment. Visiting your missionaries in the field opens doors of understanding that could never be experienced from letters, PowerPoints or even their visits to your church. You see firsthand the joys and challenges they experience daily and how you can support and encourage them on site or back home.
- Volunteer hands-on projects could be as simple as pulling weeds in gardens to building schools, health clinics or churches. Travelers today, no matter the age, want to leave more than their dollars in the destination—they want to leave their footprints and handprints. There is no age that cannot participate in these projects because of the variety of things you can do. Anyone can read a child a story in an orphanage or listen to them tell you their story. Whether it’s sharing a meal, bringing small gifts, painting a wall or sewing new curtains, these work projects lead to tearing down the old walls of misunderstanding other cultures.
- Planning and facilitating retreats for missionaries would include child care, teaching, fun and relaxation. Allow them to take a break and refresh their body and soul. Everyone needs to break away from normal day-to-day activities and enjoy fellowship with others in a different setting. Retreats allow this to happen in a short amount of time.
Your group may do a pilgrimage, traveling to destinations that are important to your faith.
Israel is visited by more religious groups than any other country. How you visit Israel will be your decision. Your faith will always be an important factor in a visit to Israel, but did you know that Tel Aviv is one of the top 10 beach cities in the world, according to National Geographic?
How you plan your Israel visit will be based on such questions as: Do you want to visit Old Testament biblical sites, New Testament sites, Palestinian areas, Jewish areas, Christian communities? Do you want to interact with people of different faiths or visit congregations sharing your beliefs?
Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Jordan are also important in the Old and New testaments. Europe is the birthplace of many denominations of today. A tour of Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria could focus on Reformation history, Anabaptist roots or Huguenot founders. Touring the United Kingdom will give you the foundations of Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopal denominations. Italy, Spain, France and Ireland have many important Catholic churches.
Many domestic areas can also offer spiritual experiences—at retreats, churches, shrines and museums, for instance. There are numerous Catholic shrines in the U.S. that can be visited by your parish. Catholicshrines.net will give you a list by state. Here are a few examples of states and their number of shrines:
- Pennsylvania 12
- New York 14
- Ohio 12
- California 4
- Wisconsin 7
Many states have sites that hold interest for faith-based tour groups: historical chapels and churches, sculpture gardens, museums and libraries (Billy Graham Library), conference centers—The Cove, Gloretta and Sandy Cove—to name a few.
Cruises offer an ultimate fellowship opportunity for faith-based groups–time on the ship to spend in conversation, reflection, meditation and study. Visits at the ports of call include opportunities to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation and might even allow a few hours visiting people and doing small volunteer projects.
Planning tours to enhance the relations of your members is another part of faith-based travel programs. Reaching out to inactive members by inviting them to join you on a day trip, multi-day tour, international trip or cruise is a way to make them feel like a part of the group in a different and relaxed setting.
Inviting non-members is great outreach to the community in general, and a positive travel experience can add to your church membership. Traveling with non-members can also widen your church’s cultural or ethnic boundaries. When you reach out to your church community and beyond, the travel destinations are endless. The tour can be to a region of interest to the cultural heritage of your hometown, a sister city in Europe, a culinary destination based on the ethnic background of the community or a place of natural beauty.
Travel is a great tool in bringing together people who have been local supporters or introducing possible new contributors to your needs. Fundraising can benefit local membership projects, international causes and humanitarian requests in ways an individual could not impact alone.
Here is one example of fundraising through travel: A local congregation needed a new educational room. They planned a “Footsteps of Paul” tour in Greece and Turkey with an added donation to the tour price for a building project. They built a new St. Paul teaching wing that gave meaning to all those who traveled, experienced the sites first hand and came back passionate to provide this facility for their congregation. Making it real and personal is always a driving force in writing the check.
Another way to give supporters the opportunity to catch the vision is having the senior pastor or priest, college president or head of the organization lead the tour. This allows people more one-on-one time where the future of the church or organization can be shared and travelers become an important part of that vision with their donations. There is a proven increase in giving after trips such as this.