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Through the Eyes of an Outsider

When was the last time you looked at your church’s travel program through the eyes of a visitor?

Until early this year, I had attended the same church nearly every week of my life. This brought some incredible, long-lasting relationships and a deep sense of community. But after decades as part of one faith family, I had very little notion of what our little church might look like to an outsider.

Last winter, when my wife and I decided that it was time for a change, we spent about three months taking our young family to visit different churches around Lexington, Kentucky, before finding one that we love. Visiting churches was eye-opening in many ways. In addition to forcing us to think about what we valued most in a church family, it gave us the experience of coming into a congregation as an outsider, which offered a valuable perspective.

Your church leaders probably pay attention to the impression your services make on outsiders. And to the extent that your travel program represents your church and its mission, you should think about the impressions you make on new and prospective travelers as well.

Here are five questions to ask about your church travel program to make sure you’re creating positive experiences for newcomers.

1) Are we welcoming?

No church visitor wants to feel unwelcome or unwanted — that’s why we often put our most personable people at the front doors as greeters and ushers. But if your group has traveled together for a long time, there’s a chance it might seem exclusive or inaccessible to outsiders. Some people will join you only when they are directly invited, so make sure you are quick to welcome new travelers into your fold.

2) Are we organized?

In many modern, thriving churches, Sunday services run like well-oiled machines. But does your travel program? People will feel uncomfortable about spending money to travel with you if you aren’t quick to return phone calls, if you delay in answering email or if you otherwise give the sense you are disorganized.

3) Are we trustworthy?

We all grieve when a well-known church or ministry is found to have mishandled funds or abused people’s trust. Transparency and trustworthiness are keys to making visitors feel comfortable about a church, as well as its travel program. You should be clear about how you handle funds and the steps you take to ensure safety on trips.

4) Are we vibrant?

Recent studies have found that in the United States, thousands of churches close every year, and most of those closings are due to aging congregations that don’t successfully recruit younger members. Even if your travel program is part of your seniors ministry, it’s imperative to constantly appeal to people on the young end of your target demographic in order to keep your program from declining as the faithful age.

5) Are we on-mission?

Churches lose their way when they stray from the core tenets of their mission — serving their communities and sharing the Gospel — and if your travel program becomes unmoored from the mission of your church, you could lose your way, too. In everything you do, make sure you are serving the purpose of your church and, ultimately, the Great Commission.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.