Lessons from Disney World
Five things the church could learn from the place “Where Dreams Come True”
By Joshua Bower
Three weeks ago my family took a vacation to Walt Disney World in Florida. Was it the most magical place on earth? Not exactly. We spent a small fortune on sunscreen (on everything, really), I ruined a nice shirt with sweat, and my feet still hurt. And I have a thing or two to say to the marketing genius who forced me to walk my kids through a gift shop at the end of every ride. But you know what? Overall, it was a really great time. And more than that, I started to realize about halfway through the trip that there’s plenty the church could learn from Disney.
Now, some folks might be uneasy about the church taking our cues from Disney. They are a multi-media colossus and their sole motivation for all the “magic” is turning a profit. I get that. But I’m talking about practices here. And here are 5 you can put to use in your church:
- Make it personal. There were literally tens of thousands of people in every park I went to, but I swear it felt like the experience was all about me. The wrist bands they gave us at check-in weren’t generic: each one of us got one with our name printed on the inside of it. The “Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor” used jokes texted in by kids in the audience as part of their comedy routine. The princesses complimented my daughter on specific things she was wearing. It was the most unbelievable show of hospitality I’ve ever seen. What if we in the church committed to that level of hospitality? What if we treated every single person who came through the church doors like an honored guest? What if we spent as much energy accommodating “outsiders” as we do comforting “insiders”?
- Include everybody. At every “character meal” each character had a Disney employee assigned to them. That employee had a seating chart. Their job? Make sure every child in the restaurant got time with their designated character. The result? No one was missed. What a great reminder to the church: be intentional and have a system in place so that every person in the church is included in what’s going on in the church! Nobody slipped through the cracks at Disney because there was a system in place to keep that from happening. Was it spontaneous? Nope. But nobody cared. They were too busy high-fiving Goofy to notice the guy with the clipboard. What system does your church doing to make sure people get visited, contacted, invited to church activities, and given opportunities to serve? Don’t assume people feel connected, make sure they are.
- Have great restrooms. With thousands of people needing to do their business in each park, you’d assume that the restrooms are nasty at Disney. Not so! They were some of the cleanest public restrooms I’ve ever been in. The church needs to take note: people may differ on what music they like, what preaching style they enjoy, or what size church they like, but we are all united in our human need to…go. So keep your restrooms up to date, well-maintained, super clean, and well-marked. It’s the only place that’s guaranteed to be seen every time the church is open. Make it nice.
- Begin and end well. I sat through a “Frozen Sing-a-long” show that was literally clips from the movie over and over again. We could have done it at home. But they began the show with a visit from Princess Anna, and then at the end Queen Elsa came out and made it snow in the auditorium while “Let It Go” blared in the loudspeakers. I don’t even like the movie and I left feeling like everything was right in the world. My dad said the same thing about one of the light shows: “The beginning was good, middle was kind of boring, but the ending was incredible!” He said he’d go back in a minute. The takeaway for the church: start and end your worship services well. I’m not advocating for boring garbage in the middle, obviously, but make sure you bookend the service with your best. Grab people at the beginning of worship with energy and warmth and send them on their way with enthusiasm and joy. First and last impressions matter.
- Embody the vision. It’s tough to really describe this one, but if you’ve been to Disney you’ll know what I mean: everybody who works there embodies the “Disney spirit.” When they say “Have a magical day” it sounds like they mean it. This is probably the most important lesson of all for the church: embody what you say you believe. We say we love Jesus and that he calls us to love and serve others. How will you help your church to make that real? People will only be drawn to our message if we ourselves act like it’s the best thing in the world. And it is!
You might not have a multi-million dollar budget at your church, but we all have the ability to live out our faith in Jesus, in his church, with at least as much energy and thoughtfulness as the folks at Disney. Give it a shot!
Joshua Bower is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Albany, Georgia.