"It was a colossal waste": American Bible Society shutters 3-year-old museum that cost $60 million
ยท Mar 15, 2024 ยท NottheBee.com

After spending $60 million on a project to open a Bible museum in Philadelphia, the American Bible Society is shutting down the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center (FLDC) after three short years and a very disappointing return on investment.

From Christianity Astray - err, I mean, Christianity Today:

ABS had projected that the museum, centrally located on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, would draw 250,000 visitors a year. The revenue from ticket sales for the museum show a much lower number, maybe as low as 5,400 visitors in fiscal year 2022 (the museum's program revenue was $54,000 and full-priced tickets cost $10).

You've gotta think that they were looking at the seemingly huge success of the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC and figured a museum in the historic museum-area of Philly was a shoo-in!

But if those numbers are correct, this was a disastrous launch for the FLDC. Like, a disaster of biblical proportions.

ABS's new CEO Jennifer Holloran, arriving last month to an organization with a variety of financial and missional troubles, said in an email to staff on Wednesday that she and the board had agreed at their February meeting that "now is the time to proceed with this difficult but necessary action." She quoted Ecclesiastes 3, writing that "everything that happens in this world happens at the time of God's choosing."

"The FLDC as conceived was a wonderfully innovative idea," she wrote to staff. "That idea came with big possibilities and requirements to allow it to be functional in the long run. Unfortunately, despite the valiant efforts of our FLDC leadership and team, we have not been able to achieve the long-term sustainability that an experience like that needs to be successful."

It was May 2021 when the museum was opened, right at the tail end of all the Covid craziness, and maybe in Philadelphia, that made for a disappointing launch. However, in the years since, things certainly haven't picked up enough to make the multi-million dollar investment worth it.

The museum had artifacts donated from the Museum of the Bible in DC. Major contributors included Elevation Church, First Baptist Houston, the Green family of Hobby Lobby, and members of the L.L. Bean family.

"I am disappointed. I'm sure I'm not the only one," said Peter Rathbun, who donated to the museum along with his wife because he became excited about it when he served as general counsel to ABS. "I'm disappointed because I believed it was a wonderful vision, and I have no reason at this point to think that it is not still a great vision."

"It was a colossal waste," said one former ABS employee who was not authorized to speak on the record.

The museum was meant to connect the Bible and the influences of Christianity on the United States. It was an interesting idea with a lot of potential. But it just flopped in the real world.

The money spent on the museum came partially from the ABS's recent sale of their downtown NYC building, which netted the organization $300 million in 2015.

Sadly, the investment was a grade-A flop.

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