What The Church Can Learn From Disney

My family and I took a trip to DisneyWorld about a month ago. It was a great trip. Of course, it was tiring, but ultimately, a wonderful experience. My daughter was able to ride Big Thunder Mountain as her first “real” roller coaster ride. My sons and I were able to ride the cars together. So many memories were made. 

The great thing about DisneyWorld is the fact that they try to make the experience memorable from the very beginning. Once you enter the park, something magical occurs that brings you into your childhood, or enhances our childhood. As I was discussing the magical moments of our experience, I came to this thought: The Church can learn a thing or two from Disney.

Let’s start from the beginning…

1) BE WELCOMING:  The thing about Disney is they seriously try to make it seem like you’re in a whole new world (pun intended). They want to make your reality disappear, so the magic you experience brings you out of what you know, into what you wish the world could be. It seemed like everywhere you would go, the cast members would be extremely happy to see you, like you were the only one in the park. Obviously, all the non-cast members helped you realize very quickly that wasn’t the case, but the members did their best to welcome you with a smile, assist with any questions, and make you feel important. In an article in pastors.com , Rick Warren shared the number one reason people return to a church is when they feel loved. They need to know you care. By just saying, “Have a great day!”, listening to concerns, answering questions, etc. a person can feel valued. When someone enters the church doors, they should feel as if they are seen, welcomed, and know that there is someone who wants them to be there. The Disney welcoming crew is on it, and we need to learn how to bring that experience to our local churches. 

2) BE CLEAR: There was never a way for us to not know what was going on at certain times or in particular areas at Disney. The signs pointed us in the right directions. The parades were happening and we could look it up in the app or on a map to see where and when they were happening. When you were on a ride, everything was clearly marked and the staff was on the same page. When a ride shut down, there were people there to explain to the best of their ability what was expected to happen next. You see, when people come to church. they should have clarity. They should not be left wondering if they can drink the coffee during the sermon. They shouldn’t be expected to know where everything is right when they walk in the door. There should be some signage or someone available to assist them in their requests. The team should be clear on expectations, not just the worship team and pastor, but the welcoming team all the way to the children’s ministry. If you don’t have teams, then your key leaders should have answers for the biggest questions. Explain why you’re taking communion. Explain your service occasionally, but especially when you have new faces. Help people understand the process and what they should be expecting. Clarity brings peace in chaos. Disney is chaotic, but when you know where you’re going, and how to get there, it is easier to maneuver through the crowd. 

3) BE INCLUSIVE: Now, don’t shut this down just yet. This is a call to consider what you might need to shift to make people feel more comfortable in your space. While waiting in the line for “It’s A Small World”, it was amazing to see the boats come up that were wheelchair accessible. There were grandparents entering the ride with their grandchildren, that perhaps wouldn’t have been able to ride before. All the bathrooms had baby changing tables in them. I mean, I’m assuming the women’s room did, because my wife didn’t say otherwise. Having a baby changing table for dads is valuable. There were nursing stations for women who needed to breastfeed. Then, of course, there wasn’t anyone making people feel unwelcome if they didn’t believe in Mickey Mouse. What I’m trying to say is, churches need to find ways to make sure all who enter the doors feel valued and have dignity. The small thing of having a changing table in the men’s room means fathers can assist with the needs of the children. Make sure you have ways to assist those who have physical disabilities, or at least make it easier for them to access the facility. Don’t make people feel like they don’t belong because they don’t believe like you. Make the place comfortable. 

I want to share something else I found to be pretty incredible. There was a sing-along show for FROZEN.The show retells the story of Anna and Elsa with funny characters and, of course, the FROZEN stars. The show is totally worth sitting through if you’re a fan. What I found to be wonderful about the show was their sign language team. Yes, you read that right, there was a team. Two people in unison doing sign language to interpret the characters words. People who were unable to hear the characters were actually able to experience the show through their work. It was fantastic! If possible, the church should find ways to make their services more accessible. 

4) BE OWNERS: With all the people present in the park, it’s incredible to me how clean the place is. Disney has so much potential to be incredibly dirty, but they have a crew of people who own their roles. They see that they have a duty to keep the place clean, and they do it to the best of their ability. They don’t look to team leaders, owners, or managers. They don’t wait to be told. They see it and do it. The people behind the kiosks know they play a role in keeping the attendee happy, so they do it with a smile. Far too often, people in the churches wait for the leaders to guide their mission. They wait for leaders to take the initiative. They see something that needs to get done, but do nothing until someone says, “do it”. We need to learn how to own the church we attend. Help to clean up. Help to set up. Help to serve. Don’t just walk in to hear a message, because that’s not your only duty. Your real duty is to assist the church in its growth, maintenance, and mission. Find a way to make your church better. Don’t stand back and feel like you only have one role to play, you can play multiple roles which helps make the church better, and the experience more comfortable for the people entering the doors.

Much of this really shouldn’t seem like brand new news, but we still need to be better. We should have churches that people come into knowing they are welcome. People shouldn’t come into the churches we worship in, and be confused when we worship a God of clarity. Let’s be better at inviting, encouraging, and developing our church for the sake of those who have felt like they couldn’t enter through our gates. 

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