WASHINGTON, D.C — Each day, Cary Summers roams the eight floors of the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., talking to visitors and discovering what they like best about the massive new facility.
And most don’t even know he’s the museum’s president.
Summers had retired from president and CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment/Silver Dollar City Corporation but agreed in 2010 to help get the Museum of the Bible off the ground because of its unique eternal focus. Advice from the late Bill Bright has served him well.
“Bill encouraged me to build things that would attract people who would never go into a church or a synagogue,” Summers said of the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. “And I was intrigued with that idea.”
That is what happened at Silver Dollar City – an 1880s-style theme park that features a gospel music festival alongside mainstream attractions – and that’s what he’s helping accomplish at the Museum of the Bible, which opened in November.
“Walking through the museum gives me the opportunity to listen to people,” he said. “I get to learn a lot about what’s working, what’s not working. I find that fascinating, really.”
Attendance has been “above expectations,” he said.
The $500 million, 430,000-square-foot museum is the largest of its kind in the world and brings the Bible to life with cutting-edge technology that few museums enjoy. It has 12 theaters, 93 projectors, 250 computers and 384 monitors. Each visitor to the museum also receives a hand-held tablet known as a “Digital Guide,” which gives guests a one-of-a kind personalized tour. The Digital Guide has age levels for adults, teens and children.
The museum examines the history of the Bible, looking not only at its development but also its impact on the world. The facility has no entrance fee, although there is a suggested donation of $15 for adults and $10 for children 12 and under.
“People are coming from all over the world,” Summers said. “Just during our grand opening week, I know there were at least 40-plus countries that were represented.”
It’s not just Christians who are attending. Visitors from all cultures and all religions are walking through the doors, discovering how the Bible has changed the world.
“We’ve had many Muslims come through and thoroughly enjoy it,” Summers said.
Museum officials expect the lowest months of the year for tourism will be December, January and February, with the highest months during Spring – particularly during the Cherry Blossom Festival and school field trips – and during Summer.
Officials already are noticing a few trends, with a “tremendous amount of families” visiting, he said.
“It’s become a great family hangout because of all of the emphasis we have put on younger people,” Summer said.
Attendance has been so high that the museum has doubled the number of locations to eat in the museum, from two to four.
Summers has been particularly encouraged by the feedback received in the exit surveys that are conducted by a third party.
“The number one word that is popping up – the number one-word description of how the museum makes you feel — is the word ‘hope,’” he said.
It seems the museum is changing peoples’ perceptions of the Good Book for the better.
“The Bible is blamed for everything under the sun,” he said. “But it’s the misuse of the Bible that has created those problems. If you do realize that, then you say, ‘Maybe there is hope.”
Learn more at www.museumofthebible.org.
— by Michael Foust
Foust is an award-winning freelance writer and father of four children. He blogs at www.michaelfoust.com.