Eternity in view
Once you have a firm grasp on the vision of your church and the purpose you’d like to pursue for your travel group, you can begin to plan your trips with your purpose in mind. This makes for something much greater than the average group tour that is being sold all around town. It’s travel, with eternity in view.
What does that entail? There are plenty of ways to go, but here are five key areas where your travel program can grow to fulfill a spiritual purpose.
1) Create opportunities for fellowship and spiritual growth. Incorporate aspects of a church retreat into your itinerary — pray together, study the Bible together, have a devotional time on the bus. Share with each other, exchanging testimonies, life stories, prayer requests and other concerns. If there’s a musician on board, have him bring a guitar and worship together, or sing your favorite old hymns a capela as the bus rolls down the road.
If you want to get more involved in this area, you can plan breakout times into your itinerary, giving people an opportunity to pray and share together in small groups. And if some of these ideas sound a bit uncomfortable to you, they’re probably going to seem foreign to your travelers too. So don’t be afraid to take the lead, even if you feel out of your element. Other travelers will join you, and soon, they will embrace these opportunities to grow spiritually together.
2) Create connections with the world around you and the places you visit. Don’t just visit — interact. Find ways to make one-on-one contacts with the culture you’re visiting, through home stays, church visits or shared meals with members of the local community. Make an effort to connect with the local church and its work wherever you can go. You can take place in a local community service project, or share in another church’s celebrations.
The experience will be even more powerful if you take opportunities to break down walls and cross boundaries. Visiting with churches of different ethnicities, denominations or worship styles can be rich and rewarding for your travelers.
3) Give back and serve the communities you visit. Voluntourism has become a hot term in our industry today, and there’s a powerful reason why — it is more blessed to give than to receive. So take advantage of the many voluntourism opportunities offered by tour operators, tourist boards and convention and visitors bureaus. You can also take the initiative to find places to serve in the destinations that you’re planning to visit. And ask your travel providers to help with this. If they want your business, they should be willing to work with you to help build purpose into your tours.
As you progress in this area, you might find growing interest in service trips. You can plan short day trips or overnight trips to do service projects in destinations closer to home. And don’t be surprised if volunteer opportunities become the highlight of your trips. Giving back affirms our sense of purpose. It’s the church being who we’re supposed to be.
4) Make your trips attractive to a variety of age groups. Get creative with flexible itineraries. Include a lot of free time, and pick some attractions and activities like theme parks, adventure sports, beaches and concerts that appeal to boomers, youth or families. Use hotel properties that are family friendly, and adjust the price point of your tour to make it attractive to the demographic you are trying to reach.
It may sound far-fetched to have younger people coming along on a traditional group tour, but it’s not as unlikely as you may think. Be the one to step out and bridge the generation gap, volunteering to chaperone a youth trip or activity. You’ll be surprised how easily you can begin to build between generations.
5) In-reach and outreach. Use travel as an a way to reach people inside and outside the church that could use encouragement. Make a point to personally invite people from church to go with you (sometimes a shy person will feel more welcomed if you’ve extended a hand to them). Find ways to help those who can’t financially afford the trip, by asking travelers to contribute a little bit extra, arranging room-sharing or passing along an escort comp.
Encourage people to invite friends and family from outside the church to come along on your trips, and then use the time together to show the love of Christ to church members and visitors alike. As the days of the trip go by and people grow closer, they begin to open their lives to one another, creating some opportunities for really meaningful ministry.
These are just some ideas to get you started; I’m sure there are many more out there. Not everything on this list will work for your group, but try some that sound good, and see where they takes you. One thing is for sure: Your trips will become much more than just another group tour.