A not so secret secret about myself is that I am a big geek. I’m not into video games or science fiction- more like history, travel, books and food. One television channel I find myself watching from time to time is the Travel Channel. The whole concept of the Travel Channel is interesting. They broadcast programs that showcase various places around the world with the assumed goal to make the viewer desire to visit these places in person. I’ll be the first to admit that they often succeed with their goal. When I watch a show on historical sites in the UK, gourmet French cuisine in Paris, or the crystal-clear waters of a Caribbean island, my mental list of places I want to visit continues to grow.
This post isn’t about the Travel Channel, but rather what our theology and our churches can learn from Travel Channel. I see five things that our churches can learn from the Travel Channel.
- The power of words. Do our words draw people in or push people away? If you’ve ever seen a Travel Channel or Food Network show then you know that the viewer cannot feel, smell and taste what the host feels, smells and tastes. The difference, then, between a very boring show and one that draws the viewer in is the way that the host describes what he or she sees, feels, smells and tastes. Do our churches do the same thing? We need to describe Christ in such a way that those who don’t know Christ can see what we see in Christ, feel what we feel in Christ and taste what we taste in Christ. We need to understand that words have power and choose them accordingly.
- The importance of pictures. When a Travel Channel host shoots a program in a new city, how do they decide what to show and what leave out? In a city with thousands of restaurants, museums, parks, historical landmarks and other attractions, how do they decide which things to showcase? I think a large part of the decision comes down to simply what will look good on television. On a television show the visual pictures matter and the same is true for our churches. Within the last several decades (perhaps within the last century), we have forgotten the importance of pictures and images within the Christian life. Everything from visual artwork to symbols can help communicate the message of the gospel. People connect with pictures and our churches need to paint compelling pictures of what faith in Jesus looks like because pictures are important.
- The beauty and variety in the world. The programs on the Travel Channel don’t showcase the same places over and over and over again. Even within the same city or country, different shows and different hosts take the viewer to different, new and unique places. One of the goals of the network is to show the beauty and variety in the world and to show that whether the viewer is interested in adventure, leisure, cuisine, art or history, there is something for them in places all over the world. As the church, are we showing the beauty and variety within Christianity? Or are we re-airing the same program over and over and over again? The Christian faith has amazing beauty and variety, our churches need to make special efforts to show that beauty and variety to the world.
- Make people remember where they have been. One of the fun things that I do when I watch a travel show is to compare cultural similarities and cultural differences that exist between the locations showcased on the program and the places around the world that I have had the privilege to visit. It reminds me of where I’ve been. I remember the things I saw, the foods I ate and people I met. While our churches should attempt to move people forward in their faith, but it is important to have times to remember the past. Our churches need to embrace times of reflection and allow time for stories to be told. These will help us remember where we have been and remember the faith journey we have been traveling.
- Make people want to be where you are. As we said earlier, the ultimate goal of the Travel Channel is the make the viewer want to travel to the places showcased in the program- to see the sights, experience the beauty and embrace the cultural differences for themselves. On a whole, I don’t feel that our churches are enticing people to join us where we are. On a whole, the church isn’t preaching a message that is enticing people to leave where they are and join us where we are. When those around us catch glimpses of our faith, our community and our whole lives, are they eager to join us? Are our churches preaching the messages of love, forgiveness, grace and salvation that will cause those hearing to want join with those of us who have already found them.
As the church, we have been entrusted with the greatest message in the world. It’s a message that is much more important than which Caribbean island has the best beaches or where to find authentic Indian food in Lincoln, Nebraska and yet there are things that we can learn and implement from looking at the patterns that make for successful television shows. We can learn the power of words, the importance of pictures, and the necessity to show beauty and variety in our message, while making people both remember where they have been while calling them to join us where we are. Those are five things the church can learn from the Travel Channel.
© Ryan Vanderland 2014