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The Value of a Church Travel Program
By: Cindi Brodhecker

Do you know that more than 50,000 church travel programs exist? Do you know how valuable a church travel program can be? Does your church travel together on day trips with adult fellowship classes, small groups, or the whole congregation? If so, then you do know the value of getting out of the sanctuary and into a comfortable motor coach, airplane, or cruise ship?

According to the U.S. Office of Travel & Tourism Industries, overseas religious travel grew at double the rate of general overseas travel in the past five years; it also grew by double in 2007.

The year of 2009 has been declared the Year of Faith Tourism. What is faith tourism?
It is travel with your church organization to enrich your faith, build fellowship and fun, and expand your missions and volunteer ministry.

1. Enrich Spiritual Faith
With travel, you can see the places of the Bible lands, such as Israel and Jordan, Egypt, and Greece and Turkey.
You can also trace the roots of your own denomination, including England for Methodists and Episcopalians and Scotland for Presbyterians.

2. Build Fellowship and Fun
You can building fellowship and support among the congregation by local day trips or multi-day getaways, cruises, and retreats and camps for couples, singles, adult ministries, and youth.

3. Expand Missions and Volunteer Ministry
Go to a region out of your comfort zone and work and minister to others. Visit missionaries in the field and see firsthand the work that you support. Work at missionary retreats and allow the mission workers to relax and enjoy the experience instead of doing the children’s ministry, teaching, organizing, etc. Volunteer for a work project or humanitarian project in another area or dig in and help those in need after a disaster strikes their homes and churches

Raising needed funds for ministry or special projects can take on a new direction by using travel to enhance the giving of the church needs. Add a tax deductible donation to the price of the trip and inform travelers that the cost does include a gift for a special need. Some cruise lines will offer matching funds for a not-for-profit organization with a special project or fundraising needs. Plan a trip to a place of special importance and add an honorarium for a special project back home. Include a retired staff member or missionary couple on the special trip and collect gifts from the members to cover the cost for these folks.

300 million people travel annually on some type of faith-based trip, and your church may already be doing some travel, but have you thought of expanding it to another level? Do you realize the impact that you have on our global community?  On your church community? On the cause of peace—sharing cultural differences and understanding better the people of our world?

Your church travel group can influence and impact your neighbor, your community, and the world. Church travel is the means to provide a vacation, long or short, from the daily activities in order to refresh the body, mind and spirit, even offering healing and restoration. Travel is a means to get away from your everyday life and allow God to meet you there.

How important to the life of church is a travel program?

* Discipleship and outreach
* Stronger community bonds
* Tool for understanding other cultures and promoting peace and understanding
* Development and growth of the church family

If you do not have a church travel program, people are on their own to visit places of interest, but wouldn’t it be fun to visit these places with your church family? Group travel is a great way to see the sites of the world-don’t allow them to sign up with a group tour that are all strangers-as good as group travel is and the opportunity to make your friends-cherish the friends you have in the church pew? Do you think that couple that sits in front of you every Sunday should travel with people they do not know? Do we stop being church members or Christians when we pack our suitcase and go on vacation? Do you take a vacation from your faith or do you want to enrich your faith?

How can I start a church travel club?
If you think your church is too small, you could join with another small church in your area, promote a trip with your denominational district or synod, or use the free coverage only your church can receive with press releases and public service announcements to bring the community together.

You may also be thinking that your church may not have people that can afford to take a two-week vacation. No one does; all churches are made up of different economic situations, so offer travel experiences that vary in length and cost.
How can you create excitement for travel?
Use travel as an educational source. Work with your travel company to obtain information and sample itineraries. Host guest speakers with travel experience and lots of photos to share. Have potluck dinners with international decorations or theme. Send colorful postcards on a quarterly basis or give your travelers a colored folder to keep all the information.

You should always have a post-trip fellowship time to share photos and keep the special bond created during the trip to continue. Give a general timeframe for travel for the upcoming years, such as spring 2010, and even offer a five-year forecast of travel plans. Give people the opportunity to set aside the time and funds needed for the trip.

Travel is enrichment to the planet and people, as the quote from St. Augustine states: “The world is like a book and if you do not travel, you have only read one page.” So, are you ready to open the book of travel and turn the pages, even read ahead to future chapters? The world is waiting for you to leave your footprint alongside your fellow church members.

Cindi Brodhecker is president of Faith Travel Development and Consulting, which is designed to help group leaders, church and university leaders, and the travel industry develop group tours to change and inspire lives, www.faithtraveldevelopment.com.

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