What the church can learn from Disney World (part 1)

OK, the church is not Disney World, thanks be to God. But after a recent trip with my family, a comment my wife and I kept making throughout our vacation was, “Disney does it right.” On the plane on the way home, I thought of some things we church people can learn from the most magical place on earth. Here are the first three…

1. One Word Message. I read this story while on the plane and thought of my Disney experience…

“During college a good friend challenged me to define my theology. John was not a Christian and he loved to provoke discussions that would force me to think deeply about the surface convictions I held from my Christian upbringing. He would often ask me the same question: ‘Can you summarize your faith in one word?’ Inevitably we would reach the point in the discussion where I was annoyed because he wouldn’t accept my answers, and he was deeply satisfied because I couldn’t give a good answer. After graduation, I became a youth pastor in a United Methodist Church. Almost five years later, I called John and left a message on his answering machine. ‘John, this is Drew. I have one word for you – grace.’ And I hung up the phone. Two weeks later, John called me and we went to lunch to discuss my answer. It seems that in the maze of practicing ministry I found the word that shaped who I was and how I understood God.” (Drew A. Dyson, Faith-Forming Junior High Ministry: Beyond Pizza 101. [Nashville: Abigindon Press, 2003], p. 14.)

Disney World knows the one word that defines its belief system, and it permeates through everything they do: Magic. From marketing, check-in at the hotel, to meals, the parks, to rides, to standing in line, everything at Disney World cultivates a sense of wonder, amazement, and the belief that “dreams really do come true.” How about us? What about you? What one word defines your faith? What one word defines your church experience? Can you name it? Whatever that word is, whether it is grace, or magic, or Jesus, or forgiveness, or something else – we can learn from Disney to make that message bold, clear, concise, and evident in our lives.

2. Hospitality. I am convinced that every organization, secular or sacred, profit or nonprofit, should have hospitality training with Disney. Every person that works there: from hotel and meal providers, from the characters and the people that guide the group to stand in line to meet them, to the personnel managing rides, from shuttle drivers to people taking out the trash…every single person who works at Disney’s primary job is making people feel welcome, cared for, important, and part of the community while they are there. The other tasks they have been asked to do are secondary. The atmosphere created allows people to relax, be themselves, tend to what they are doing while being changed by the experience. Can you imagine running the church that way? What if every person at church, from pastor and worship leaders, ushers and musicians, fellowship providers, Sunday school teachers, committees, choirs, and every member saw their primary role as one that provided welcome, care and inclusion into what we were doing. Why? So that those who join us feel important and are changed by the experience. People would not only visit, but return, and long to come back. When we left our Disney hotel the greeters said to us, “See you in six months.” I don’t think we’ll be going back in May, but it made me feel like they were pleased we came. What if each visitor at church was told by those sitting around them, “I’m glad you worshiped with us today, see you next Sunday” with that same warm smile?

3. Evangelism. Yes it is true, Disney can teach us evangelism. Evangelism need not be pushing people to a conversion; or getting into people’s faces. The word: “evangelize” literally means, “telling good news.” In line at the store, library, in conversation with friends, and all about town, neither my wife  nor I could stop talking about taking the kids to Disney World in the days preceding the trip. People responded in turn with their own stories, helpful advice, and words of encouragement. What if we treated evangelism this way? Disney is great, but let’s face it – the savior of the world is a much better story than a mouse. Sometimes we are timid because we don’t want to offend anyone. What if instead of seeing evangelism as offensive, we view sharing our faith and how it inspires us to live as a natural expression of who we are as people claimed by the savior of the world? What if in sharing our stories we didn’t get defensive or anxious that we might be misunderstood or say the wrong thing, but were open to other people’s stories and what they might offer us in return? That truly would be magical!

There is a lot here to digest, and think about. There is plenty more to come.

Let me summarize by putting into practice these three lessons learned from Disney World:

1.’ Christ is present! (Incarnation is my one word, it is a big word that means, “God is with us always.”)

2.’ Thanks for reading and being part of this wordpress publication.

3.’ Stay tuned until next time, and I hope to see you soon.
(Maybe by then you can think of your one word to share with me!)

Have a Magical Day,
Pastor Geoff

About geoff sinibaldo

Follower of Jesus, Husband, Father, Son, Friend, Volunteer Firefighter, Teacher, Mission Focused Church Leader, Camp Lover, Change Proponent, Seeking Faithfulness in the 21st Century
This entry was posted in Church & Mission, Disney!. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What the church can learn from Disney World (part 1)

  1. Ashley Ost Asal says:

    This is great Geoff. I always love reading what you have to say and everytime I hear you speak about being a Christian, I wish I lived closer to you so I could come to your church.
    Disney is magical, I went for the first time last January. We had a wonderful time and I had some of these same thoughts while I was there and how nice it would be if the world more Disney-like. If people were nicer, more polite and considerate. If more people would take pride in there community and living spaces.
    I think my one word for my faith would be acceptance. Disney does that well, they are just as welcoming to the young kids as they are the elderly visitors. I too can’t wait to go back but maybe I wouldn’t be so eager if the world and people were more like Disney.
    Thanks for writing this, looking forward to reading what comes next.

  2. Gayle says:

    Love…love for the small, the tall, those that look different than us and think differently: those that that are pirates as well as princesses: the rich, the poor, the fat, the skinny- they are all accepted as part of “a small world’ filled with wonder and love for who you are and not what you are.

Comments are closed.