Walt Disney once said “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it takes people to make the dream a reality.”
Just last week my family visited the bliss known as Disney World and what I found astounded, encouraged, amazed and invigorated (pick your verb) me and my family. From the moment we got out of our car we were transported into a place of wonder and magic. The customer service, the rides, the shows, the cast members all proof of why Disney is referred to as the “happiest place on earth.”
Harvard shared in a 2011 study, that every household in the Orlando area has a lifetime worth of approximately $50,000 each! They believe, in a lifetime, each person will spend that much on anything branded Disney. The question is why? Why do people spend upwards of $120 (per person and not including food or mouse ears) for one day at the Magic Kingdom. The answer lies in the emotions that are manifested when you walk through their gates. So what is my point and why does this matter?
How can we take the principles of the Disney way, and apply that to the church in the hopes that we engage the community for Christ.
So here are the 4 lessons from Disney for the Church:
Create an Experience.
The Disney Way. The moment you step onto a Disney property be it a hotel or one of the parks you will find that no detail has gone unnoticed. From their signage to the garbage cans and manhole covers Disney has thought through every detail and no detail is out of place. Walking through the park not only do you notice how clean and tidy everything is, I also noticed that each “themed” area had details that fully bring you into the story of that area. From Frontierland’s wooden porches and pavements covered in horseshoe prints to Tomorrowland’s metal trees and futuristic decor Disney leaves no detail out. In addition to the visual eye candy, Disney also creates ambiance with the subtle music. When you are at the Magic Kingdom you will hear instrumental versions of Disney classics but when venturing over to Hollywood Studios you will typically encounter the soundtracks of some of the best “non-animated” films like Chronicles of Narnia, The Rocketeer, or Pirates of the Caribbean. It is a small detail but a well-thought through detail.
The Church Way. I believe that most Churches already have “themed” areas. The pre-school and children’s areas typical have a fun playful vibe. The Student areas are typically full of couches and lounging spaces. So taking it a step further, what does the street entrance to your church tell people? How does the landscaping look, how clean is the building? What about when guests walk in? Do you have background music playing in the foyer or lobby that breeds a feeling of joy? For example, my church, on a particular Sunday during the Christmas season, will have live Christmas music at the main entrances of the church. One entrance may have a string quartet or horns and another may have piano or guitar. Talk about getting into the Christmas spirit. All of these details seem small but by creating an experience for an attendee you have created a feeling of peace which will hopefully translate into them being open to receiving the message from the pulpit.
The Disney Way. If you have ever been to Disney you may have noticed different people wearing large buttons/pins that say everything from First Visit, Happy Birthday and Just Married. We have actually had a couple of those buttons, once for my son’s birthday and another for my parent’s anniversary. It was fun to see how the Cast Members interacted with us and we even got some fun responses from other park goers. It was a great conversation starter. Another instance of Disney’s way to welcome their “younger” park goers happened to us several years ago. My daughter, 4 at the time, was a huge fan of Princess Jasmine. We spent the money and bought her the Jasmine costume which she wore into the park that day. When interacting with cast members we found that they would go out of their way to make sure they acknowledged my daughter by lowering their head, bowing to her and saying “Welcome Princess”. Made her day and we thought it was pretty cool too. Once again it is the little things that made us feel welcome.
The Church Way. I know what you are thinking….after what I wrote in the previous paragraph you are probably thinking I am going suggest we go back to the “visitor tags” we used to do. You remember those….right? Well I’m not going to go there but there are some very practical things we can do. For visitors, offer them something that no one else gets, maybe it is coffee and a doughnut in the designated “Newcomers” area. Connect them with other people that are new, commonality is a great encourager. Does the visitor have children? The best way to break the ice is to pay attention to their kids. Give them a sticker or some other fun giveaway. Parents respond when people engage their children. In addition, do you have a greeter at every door welcoming everyone from member to visitor? We have a greeter at our church, Mr. Joe, my family looks forward to visiting with him every Sunday morning. He makes us feel like we are the only people around. He doesn’t hurry us along, he engages the kids with questions about their week and what they have been doing. When any person walks into your church they should feel like the red carpet was rolled out just for them. Engage them, make them feel like they are genuinely welcome.
It’s the 21st century, use technology.
The Disney Way. As they used to say “there’s an app for that” this applies to Disney too. They not only have an app that gives you ride wait times, lists of restaurants and stores. They also have a personalized website called My Disney Experience that integrates with the app. It allows the user to go online, create an account that includes all family members and then from there you can book your hotel, your tickets make dining reservations, create Fast Pass options, put in favorites etc. Then have all of this information available on mobile devices with the app. It is so handy!
The Church Way. So I’m sure dining reservations and sermon length times aren’t applicable but does your church have an app or a website that links anyone using it to past sermons or bible studies? How easy is your website to navigate? Also I have noticed a shift in churches moving to a more digital friendly environment. Allowing families to create accounts (with all family members) that keeps track of mission trip, and camp sign ups and allows you to pay online. Do you regularly email the community with upcoming events or sermon series? Technology is the best way to keep people informed and connected to you. The Disney Way. From the time I booked our trip, Disney began with emails. I was receiving emails about how to make dining reservations, to FAQs regarding travel and hotels and even links for the Disney app. Disney did everything they could to make sure that my trip ran as smooth as possible. After the trip was over, I received an email about how to get access to my pictures that were taken by the Disney Cast Members. They left no stone unturned when communicating with me and in turn I felt very prepared.
The Church Way. Communication is vital for any church and should be first on the list when looking for ways to improve an experience for your congregation. Follow up emails can be as easy as using automation through services like MailChimp, Constant Contact or some other email service. If you have a new visitor send them a “Welcome” email and follow up with a list of small groups and maybe a note from the pastor. If they have been there a while keep them updated on all the things happening with the church and how they can get involved with different groups.
4. Empower Your Volunteer (or cast).
The Disney Way. While standing in line with my son to get his picture with Donald Duck, I noticed a lady in front of us that had full cast on her leg (I mean foot to hip). Like us, she was waiting in the line and honestly it was hot. At some point a cast member that was monitoring the line saw her and asked if she would like to hang out in the shade while he held her place in line (she had a family member with her but they were elsewhere). She obliged and was so appreciative that they would offer. I watched as this cast member interacted with her and seemed to make it his mission to make sure she had an incredible experience in spite of her injury (at least for those few minutes). In the end, she got her picture and Donald signed her cast. It was cool to watch.
The Church Way. For churches, the use of Volunteers is vital. Even though Volunteers aren’t being paid to serve, to an empowered Volunteer payment isn’t necessary. Empowered Volunteers receive joy out of helping others, if they are given the tools to succeed and are acknowledged from time to time for their efforts. Typically a volunteer is the first face that a newcomer sees, so make sure your volunteers feel equipped with their knowledge and mission. Disney calls their staff and employees a cast for a reason! Cast members are part of the storytelling process and the experience.
Of course these are just a few lessons from Disney that I gathered as I think about our recent trip and my goal is just to help you think outside the box. We have to remind ourselves that church isn’t just about sermons and songs it’s about the people and we need to make those people feel comfortable when they walk into halls of our churches .
So I will leave it with this question “What are you doing as a church to create an experience for everyone that walks through your doors?”