Faith-Based Tourism on the Rise: Combining Mission with Fun and Adventure

From pilgrimages and retreats to adventure excursions and mission trips, interest in faith-based tourism continues to rise. However, it is a blend of the last two types that has caught the attention of Faith Travel Association. While about two million Americans embark on short-term mission trips each year, there has been increased interest lately in combining the mission with elements of fun and adventure.

Arranged by missions-oriented ministries, travel agencies, tour operators and even suppliers, these combined trips allow individuals opportunities to make a real difference in the world by working on a range of projects—from construction and home repair to disaster relief, food and water supply initiatives and, of course, outreach and education—while also offering participants fun outings and activities that capitalize on the destination’s best features.

Adventure Serve Ministries: Making a Real Difference While Embracing the Outdoors

Adventure Serve Ministries, based in Wilmore, Kentucky, is one such ministry. Having started in the early 1980s as a home repair ministry in poverty-stricken Appalachia, the organization today works closely with group leaders to develop custom tours lasting one weekend to one week. The mission portion involves home repairs, clean-ups and sometimes disaster relief. Most trips—even those that are just a weekend—combine the mission with an outdoor adventure. The staff sees these adventures as an extension of the lessons they teach about serving others.

“If we’re going to do home repair work in rural McCreary County, one of the poorest counties in Kentucky, what better way to help people understand what it means to have tentative housing than to camp,” explained Andy Bathje, Adventure Serve’s executive director.

They began offering the adventures as a way to reward the group for their hard work.

“We say, ‘You’ve worked hard for four days—let’s go play and enjoy the flora and fauna of the area and learn about the culture,’” explained Bathje.  Indeed, after the groups complete the mission portion of their trip, Adventure Serve Ministries lives up to its name by offering all kinds of adventures from rock climbing, rappelling and wild cave tours in Kentucky to canoeing and whitewater rafting in Tennessee. They also offer “mystery trips” where the group has to solve puzzles to figure out what they will be doing the next day.

Even those groups who embark on adventure-only trips spend time taking care of each other and the planet through litter pick-ups along the rivers during canoe trips and “servant lunches,” a group exercise that ensures that the only way you will eat is by first feeding someone else.

“When we are really tired or hungry is when we have the hardest time thinking outside ourselves,” said Bathje. “But those are often the most teachable moments.”

Joshua Expeditions: Connecting Students and Church Groups to Meaningful Adventures

Joshua Expeditions has found its niche in combining mission trips with adventures and educational tours for student and church groups. “We are finding that more high school senior groups today are asking for a missions aspect to their senior trips,” shared Susan Schroeder, missions and educational group travel specialist with Joshua Expeditions (JE).

The company’s numerous mission adventure trips are the perfect answer to such requests. Though there are many from which to choose, their most popular domestic trip goes to South Florida, where groups begin by working with children from a migrant worker community who are from Honduras or Mexico. The last few days are then spent snorkeling in the Keys, visiting a gator farm and shopping on the boardwalk at Coral Gables.

JE’s most sought out international destination is Costa Rica, where groups can help in local orphanages, assist with home builds or volunteer in outreach programs. After the mission part of the trip is complete, groups can visit the volcano-heated hot springs, go whitewater rafting, enjoy a catamaran ride and some fun in the sun, or head to the forests for the thrill of a canopy zip line tour.

“We focus on education and adventure trips, but connect our groups with ministries with whom we have established relationships in the destination,” explained Schroeder.

These partnerships with mission organizations save the groups the time and hassle of trying to find mission opportunities in their chosen destination on their own, while also ensuring the mission organization a more consistent stream of volunteers who arrive on site with a better understanding of the mission’s goals and their individual responsibilities.

Modern mission trips have indeed evolved to offer a unique blend of service and adventure, catering to the interests of faith-based tourists seeking meaningful experiences. The growing trend of combining mission work with fun outings and outdoor activities has garnered attention from organizations like the Faith Travel Association. Ministries like Adventure Serve Ministries in Kentucky and travel agencies like Joshua Expeditions in Texas have taken the lead in creating custom tours that not only make a positive impact on communities but also provide participants with unforgettable adventures.

By intertwining service and adventure, these trips offer valuable lessons in empathy, teamwork, and cultural understanding. Participants not only get to contribute to various projects, such as disaster relief and education initiatives, but they also get to enjoy activities like rock climbing, rafting, and cave tours. This holistic approach fosters personal growth, making the journey a transformative experience for all involved.

Furthermore, the partnerships with established mission organizations ensure smoother planning and execution of trips, allowing participants to focus on their mission’s goals and responsibilities. As more high school senior groups and church organizations express interest in missions as part of their travel experiences, these combined mission adventures are set to continue their rise in popularity.

In the end, modern mission trips offer a powerful blend of service and adventure, leaving participants with cherished memories and a lasting impact on the communities they touch. Whether it’s lending a helping hand in local orphanages or engaging in conservation efforts, these trips fulfill both the soul’s longing for purpose and the heart’s craving for adventure.