According to this article, the world’s tourists spend most of our time walking around, shopping, enjoying amusement park rides and maybe gambling.
We live in a world where more people visit Navy Pier than the Louvre. Even worse – in my snobby opinion – is that the Las Vegas Strip has more tourists than any other attraction in the whole wide world.
(Note: as a fairly new resident of Chicagoland, your time will be better spent on an architectural boat tour than Navy Pier. Even if you don’t like architecture, you get to ride on a boat.)
How can Union Station in Washington, DC or Grand Central Station in NYC be a bigger tourist attraction than the Smithsonian Museums, unless we are counting people who are simply walking around in food courts? Same with Times Square. Are we counting a stroll through the Hershey store as tourism?
So here’s my church connection (because there is always a church connection.) Rob Bell wrote long ago in Velvet Elvis that we 21st Century Church People are sort of like tour guides: We help guide people who are passing through, in hopes of enhancing their experience and understanding of what they are seeing or hearing or feeling.
Churches today attract lots of tourists, and I don’t mean those churches with Tiffany Windows and historic pulpits. I’m talking about communities of faith with visitors who are looking for something. Maybe they don’t even know what they are looking for.
Some people simply want to walk in and check it out as a cultural experience. Others are looking for more of a log flume experience: “My life is a roller coaster. What does it mean?” Maybe they will get a little wet.
It could feel like a huge gamble to visit a church. They are hoping against hope for something that will make them rich. They will find – perhaps – that spiritual peace cannot be bought.
Are we prepared to engage with spiritual tourists? Are our church leaders equipped to give what we might consider to be obvious directions to guests who don’t know a hymnal from a Bible – although those differences are as unfamiliar as a subway map in a foreign city? Are we willing to repeat the same message over and over again with unrelenting patience and compassion? And do we know that message personally ourselves (i.e. that God loves us enough to die for us, that we were born to love God and others, that we are saved by grace?)
Look for tourists this Lenten season – who probably don’t even know what Lent is. They will definitely be walking along or driving by or shopping.