Remember for a moment your most moving travel experience. If you have ever visited a place or imagined a destination that, for you, stimulated questions of your purpose on this beautiful orb and the meaning of this life, you already have a sense of the power of faith travel.
Theologians recognize questions of who we are and why we occupy space on this planet temporarily as ontological questions. Rather than exploring abstract theological concepts, this article endeavors to provide clarity in the definition of faith travel while also offering pragmatic advice on how to begin planning an effective faith travel experience.
Faith leaders lovingly invest much of their creative energy in seeking words to illuminate answers to fundamental questions of life’s meaning. No sermon illustration, no matter how clear or potent, can physically transport a hearer to a destination. Likewise, no picture, video, or other media can truly substitute for being present in a place where we can recognize a continued influence on who we are today.
Faith travel intentionally brings people into conversation around fundamental questions of life through common experiences with the power of place. Faith travel, then, may be defined as encounters with the power of place to enrich, enliven, and embolden the faith of fellow travelers in ways that can lead to the blessing of others. The power of faith travel offers the ability to grow a ministry numerically and spiritually.
Effective communication from a pulpit or the front of a classroom requires relating to the hearer or student. Likewise, the most effective faith travel journeys are formed and shaped as narratives that tell a story. The effectiveness of a faith travel experience also depends upon a balance of deep spiritual, intellectual experiences with the space to process those experiences individually and as a group.
While a faith leader may be tempted to an unceasing theological immersion of a group on a journey, an effective faith travel experience depends on downtime and activities that are just plain fun. Planning a well-crafted faith travel experience creates the conditions for the potency of a faith travel experience to emerge naturally and organically among fellow travelers.
Dining experiences on a journey can be as important as the sights on an itinerary. Hotel accommodations, with spaces that invite discussion among fellow travelers, can create the conditions for life-changing conversations. Sights and tour experiences in an itinerary that complement the sights selected to speak directly to the faith of fellow travelers can contribute substantially to the faith travel experience. Above all, a well-crafted group travel experience correlates to a clear purpose in the story experienced by fellow travelers on a journey.
How does one begin planning an effective faith travel experience?
An effective faith travel experience begins with three closely related considerations of purpose, destination, and dates. While the most important of these considerations will be the purpose of the journey, the dates and destination are best considered alongside the purpose of a journey. The desire to travel to a particular destination may determine the decision to embark upon a faith travel experience, but it is clarity in the purpose of the journey that unlocks the power of a faith travel experience.
Be mindful of the distinction between the purpose for embarking on a faith travel journey and the means of fulfilling that purpose. The purpose reflects a need among the people you serve, whereas the means of fulfilling that purpose is the story the journey tells. The purpose of your journey may be to strengthen relationships among the people you serve or deepen their connection with you as a faith leader. You may see a need to cultivate leadership, attract new members, raise capital, or renew a passion for mission.
The story conveyed by a faith travel experience focuses on the fulfillment of the purpose of your journey. You may desire, for example, to explore how the events of the past continue to shape who we are in the present. Fellow travelers may explore the relationship between the creator and the creation. The story a journey tells may take your group to the place of origin of your faith tradition. An event or festival may anchor the story that fulfills the purpose of your journey. While the purpose of a journey best arises from an expressed need among the people you serve, the means of fulfilling that need will be articulated by the story a journey tells.
The bridge that connects the purpose of a journey and the story a journey tells will be constructed by the itinerary built around your destination. Any destination, whether domestic or international, can be a faith travel destination. Some destinations are obvious faith travel destinations whereas other destinations may be less obvious yet offer great potential as a destination for your group.
Among the most obvious international faith travel destinations is Israel. Places like the Ark Encounter or the Holy Land Tour near Branson, Missouri are examples of obvious domestic faith travel destinations. Many destinations in Europe, where faith traditions were more clearly defined in the European age of reformations, offer fantastic opportunities to tell a story that can fulfill the purpose of a faith travel experience. Perhaps less obvious, but nevertheless powerful faith travel destinations include places like state and national parks, where groups may contemplate the relationship between the creator and the created while in the presence of awesome natural beauty.
In addition to your purpose and destination, the dates of your faith travel journey are the third vital consideration in beginning to plan an effective faith travel experience. If, for example, you are seeking to form a group of students, youth, or families for your faith travel experience, you must consider the local school calendar. If you desire to attract young professionals to your group, the length of your journey should be in mind, given that vacation days are precious and limited. If your group will consist of retirees, you may consider dates in a more budget-friendly shoulder season.
Whether you are currently contemplating a faith travel experience, have in the past executed faith travel experiences in-house, or you are considering the power of faith travel for the first time, you can be sure that a member of the Faith Travel Association will be eager to help you tell the story that will fulfill your purpose for a faith travel experience.
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