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

Just to summarize from last week – we had a magical experience in Disney World as a family, and I learned a few things about what the church could learn from this impressive organization. The three points I outlined last week were:

1. One Word Message. For Disney, the one word is Magical. What is your word? Mine is incarnation. (Many of you have responded with your own-grace, forgiveness, balance, prayer, hope.)

2. Hospitality. Everyone who works at Disney is a specialist in hospitality, and then plays a secondary role. What if our people in our churches saw our primary vocation as hospitality before everything else we did as a community?

3. Evangelism. Evangelism is about telling stories of good news, and Disney seems to inspire people to share stories. What if we shared our stories of faith, but also listened to others share theirs?

Here are a few more things we can learn from Disney World:

Which one is Goofy?

4. Character Breakfasts. We had the opportunity to have two breakfasts with the beloved Disney characters. The servers came to our table to announce, “Don’t get out of your seat; Mickey is coming your way soon.” This generated excitement as each character made the rounds at each table. When Mickey and others arrived, we jumped out of our seats, ran to take pictures, exchange hugs and get our autograph books signed. I watched around the room. Every table did this. What if when we gathered around the Lord’s Table, we believed that Jesus actually showed up to be with us? How excited would we be then?

5. Recognizing Rites of Passage. The church used to excel at rites of passage – baptisms, confirmations, first communions, weddings, etc. We still do all of these things thankfully, but even as a pastor I get the sense that some of these things feel more like an intrusion into our “normal” patterns, that we don’t often give them the centrality they deserve. At Disney World, announcements on shuttle buses would herald birthdays and first time visitors to the parks. Birthday participants were given special buttons. Children in costume would be acknowledged by staff at every level, “Hi princess. Good morning pirate,” etc. I have no idea how many weddings Disney does a year, but we saw many people there on their honeymoon (they had white mouse ears) or anniversary (they had buttons), and while waiting in the lobby for breakfast with the characters one last time, we watched two separate families getting ready for a wedding to take place. We could do a better job of reclaiming those moments in life where we have something to say about how God is present in all aspects of our lives. Maybe that is why many people don’t see the church as part of their routine – in the times that have mattered, we have not fully seen the opportunity to encourage one another.

6. Anticipating Needs. At Disney World, a person is often asked if they would like something before they have even thought of it (at least I was). When we got our package in the mail, it came complete with a photo card, a meal plan we weren’t sure how to use, bus passes from the airport, and a host of other goodies. In the parks, people would ask, “Would you like…(blank)…we can just charge it to your room.” Amazing. Churches for the most part are reactive…We want to help…but where? Let’s find a project. We want to invite new people. Who? Let’s do a study. What will we do once they come? I dunno, but we’ll figure it out. Our size has changed one way or the other. How can we accommodate space and schedule? Let’s cram people in or sit in this big behemoth and hope nobody notices. Jesus prayed that we be in the world but not of it (John 17:6-19). What if we knew our context so well and so concretely that we could anticipate what was coming down the road a year or five years away? What if we not only welcomed new people as they moved in and started looking for a church, but made plans to welcome them before they arrived? What if we planned rites of farewell and Godspeed to communities no longer sustainable as we planted new ones? What if we saw transitions as a faithful part of our ministry and not just as a failure? What if we spent more of our time, effort, planning and resources concerned about those outside our door than keeping those on the inside happy? (I know I’m not the only one who notices this or is guilty of that one.) Disney reminded me that the world does exist for the church to take part, but the church exists for the sake of the world. It is our calling to recognize that truth and respond.

7. Remembering Your Roots; but Looking to the Future.  There were a few construction projects happening around the various parks and our hotel while we were at Disney World. Each had a sign posted. Rather than the typical “Sorry for the Inconvenience” the sign read, “Dream Builders: I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse – Walt Disney.” Disney does not rest on its laurels, nor does it forget who they are. Rather than feeling disappointed that a ride was closed, I was immediately inspired wondering, “I wonder what will go here next?” For too long the church has rested on its laurels – its buildings, structures, and place in society. As we have seen many of those things erode in our time many of us (including me) have wondered if we have lost something along the way somewhere. Sometimes I think we forget – it all started with a babe from Bethlehem. Scripture reminds us on more than one occasion that Jesus is our cornerstone, and yet we treat his church as if it is a depository of psychology, social networking, political pandering, or do-gooding. We certainly can learn much in our lives of faith from all of these, but sometimes we forget our starting place as we look to the future. We see higher attendance numbers from a few years ago and see ourselves as failures. We close a church building and feel we have lost. We need to restructure our institutions and reinterpret our mission. Jesus calls us to read the signs. There are over a billion Christians in the world, more than ever before in the history of the world! Christianity is found across more countries than ever before and the gospel is preached in more languages than on Pentecost. Read the signs. Yes there is work to be done and we should evaluate how to “do” church better. But remember – it all started with a babe in Bethlehem. I’m a big believer in tradition. It is probably why I like old hymns, and traditional styles of worship and old buildings. Nostalgia and keeping with the times need not be opposed to one another, but either or both can become idols at the expense of living faith. Let’s read the signs, and learn to anticipate with joy the wild ride ahead of us.

In scripture, seven is seen as a perfect number, so I will stop here for now.

Next time I’d like to reflect on:

“The Top Three Things Disney World Could Learn from the Church…”

There are plenty of things we can learn from others if we not only stop and listen but also reflect and apply. Of course we won’t always get it right. If there is one thing I am absolutely convinced of…that is it! Missed opportunities and bad choices have resulted in outcomes to be less than proud of – and I along with others who have joined me in those choices bear the responsibility of things “done and left undone.” But I hope you will also remember, that Christ came exactly for this reason – we don’t get it right. He was born, lived, suffered, and died, that we might live. He rose from the dead that we might have new life. He works in your life and mine that we may join him in the ministry of reconciliation; and in his name – your sins and mine are forgiven. As we continue to think about ways to serve more effectively, let us never lose sight of this promise, and in all we do remember – it all started with a babe from Bethlehem.


Pastor Geoff

Jesus said,

“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees; as soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. ” (Luke 21:25-31)

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
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