Traveling as a congregation is a valuable experience that inspires kinship. It isn’t always easy to organize a faith-based tour, especially if it’s your first time doing it. However, the experts in the industry know that once a church successfully arranges a trip, people see the value in it and immediately want to know when the next one will be. There are a lot of things to consider when planning a trip, and churches that are new to the game will face some challenges. However, with the right attitude, strong ambition and some helpful advice from industry experts, churches can successfully organize a religious trip and encourage passion and enthusiasm from their congregations.
Before putting pen to paper, churches need to identify what they want to get out of the trip, according to Paul Larsen of Ed- Ventures. Churches should determine their goals for the trip, so they can then find a destination and itinerary that will help them meet that goal. It can be as simple as traveling together to increase fellowship, or acknowledging a special anniversary or religious event, or learning about their religious heritage. Whatever the goal may be, keep it in mind the whole way through the planning process and into the trip itself.
Once a church knows the purpose of their trip, they then need to determine the destination and the kind of itinerary they want. The itinerary portion definitely takes some time to put together, and there are many elements to consider. “When you’re planning the trip, it’s important to think about an ideal pace for the age group that will be traveling,” says Rowena Drinkhouse, vice president of Reformation Tours.
It’s also important to think about what kind of attractions you will want to see, how many days you will want to be in each city orcountry, kinds of accommodations and the best form of transportation. This is where working with an experienced tour operator is extremely helpful, as it can coordinate with the church to develop the perfect itinerary for their goals, audience and budget.
Something else to consider when selecting a destination and organizing the trip is getting the pastor or priest on board. Almost all industry experts agree that getting the priest involved in the trip is an essential part of boosting participation from the congregation. “The best [thing] any of them can do is have the pastor be up front and say ‘I’m going,’” says Larsen. “Because for the most part, wherever he’s going, his flock will follow.”
Nick Mancino of Regina Tours agrees, saying that if the pastor or priest is actively engaged with the planning and promotion of the trip, it will be successful. However, one thing Mancino does recommend, especially in the Catholic churches since priests are stretched thin with their duties, is to find someone else in the leadership team who can provide their full commitment to the trip.
Another thing to keep in mind is timing. “I would advise a church to book as far in advance as possible,” says John Klados of Homeric Tours. “A year-plus in advance to make it easier for the church and the members.” This not only allows ample time to organize the trip, but also plenty of time to promote it to the congregation.
Spread the Word
The itinerary is set, the trip is marked on the calendar, and now it’s time to get the word out. One of the best ways to do this is to actively use the tools available at the church, such as the church newsletter and bulletin board. It’s also a good idea to have the trip mentioned in the mass announcements, and if the priest or pastor promotes it, that is even more powerful because people will be more inclined to listen and learn more about it.
“Enthusiasm is key!” says Drinkhouse. “If the pastor is excited about the trip, his congregation will catch the vision.”
Another way to educate patrons about the trip is to host a special luncheon or brunch after services are over, according to both Klados and Drinkhouse. The church website is another useful tool for organizers, says Mancino, and many tour operators can help design a dedicated page for the trip with information on the destination, the itinerary and accommodations and great photos to really get people excited.
There are times when one church may struggle to get enough participants, and that’s when it’s smart to invite people from other churches or get another church on board with yours. Having two churches promoting the trip will inevitably generate more buzz and interest.
“It’s hard to get a program going,” says Larsen. “Especially the first time.” However, once patrons realize the value of religious travel, they want to keep going, they want to do it again. To build initial excitement for that, Larsen recommends planting a seed for the next trip while your group is still on the first one.
What Not to Do
Now that you’ve got your to-do list, here are some items to put on the not-to-do list when organizing faith-based tours. First, don’t be inactive.
“It doesn’t work to just put a note in the bulletin,” says Larsen. “There has to be more effort. There has to be a reason why we’re doing this.” Church leaders have to take a very proactive role in not only putting the tour together but also promoting it to the congregation.
Second, don’t book late. “Give yourself plenty of time to plan and get the word out to everyone,” says Mancino. The more time you allow yourself, the more successful the trip will be.
Third, avoid traveling on major holidays if you can. “If you’re going to Israel, you want to avoid Jewish holidays,” says Klados. “Because hotels fill up, it’s more expensive, it takes longer to get a response, and attractions are crowded.”
Fourth, when putting together the itinerary, don’t try to squeeze everything in. “It’s always tempting to try and see everything, but the best tours include some free time,” says Drinkhouse. “Focus on the must-see highlights and then build the itinerary around those.” When you organize the tour this way, it enables people to relax, explore on their own time and visit some attractions if they wish to do so.
Finally, don’t always pick the most common destinations or itineraries. Places like Italy and Israel will always be popular, but they are not the only options. There are hundreds of interesting faith-oriented itineraries to choose from, and tour operators can help you identify which one will work for your congregation and the goals you have for the trip. Changing things up will also keep your patrons interested, engaged and eager to sign up for the next trip.
Emphasize the Value
Whether you’ve planned religious trips before or you’re treading into new territory, these pieces of advice and insight will help you organize a great faith-based tour for your congregation. On top of all these tips, one of the best things to emphasize is how valuable these kinds of vacations can be. Every industry expert says that once people see the value, they want to keep going on the trips.
“A tour is an ideal way for church families to spend quality time together,” says Drinkhouse. “Pastors can really get to know their congregation and share fun and fellowship.”
It takes dedication, time and faith to organize a religious trip for your congregation. It can be difficult to get the first one off the ground, but with some strategic planning and influential marketing, you can put together a very successful trip that will lead to many more in the future.