Monday, September 24, 2007

Lessons from Disney

Devin Hudson is planting "Grace Point Church" on the northside of Las Vegas. I have his blog saved under "My Favorites" and came across this recent posting that caught my attention:

Lessons from Disney

Regardless of where I am, my wheels are usually turning as to how my present experience relates to ministry. It is difficult for me to get out of that mindset. Spending a week in Disney was a blast but it was also very frustrating realizing the impact a single mouse (or philosophy) has made upon much of the world while churches struggle to make an impact on the people who attend them not to even mention their communities or the world itself. Here are a few lessons I took from Disney.

1. First Impressions are lasting. If you have been to Disney, you know how well trained their "cast members" (employees) are. They are friendly, helpful, and always seeking to make your experience better. Sure you run into a fair share of employees who are not having a great day but the general tone of the park from the moment you arrive is friendliness and helpfulness.

2. First Impressions do not step once you have arrived. There is always help available. On more than one occasion I noticed a Disney employee approach a bewildered couple staring at a park map to ask of they needed help or directions. They are trained to look for opportunities to serve those at the park.

3. Efficiency and effectiveness are essential. The first time I went to Disney I was about 13 and I rode about 3 rides a day because you stood in line for 2 hours waiting for a 30 second ride. I hated it. If you have been to Disney in recent years, you know they have done everything they can to make their park more efficient which makes for a more effective experience. Fast passes and adding parks and rides has helped make the overall experience more positive. It also helps that we went during one of the slowest weeks of the year and rarely waited more than 5 minutes for a ride. Disney was already an enormous attraction without improving itself but it was not content to survive. Disney knew that to thrive they had to constantly improve their efficiency and effectiveness and that is what they did.

4. Excellence is a must. If you have been to Disney, you know how clean it is. You know how detailed it is. You know the high level with which they operate. Everything they do is done with absolute excellence.

5. A good blend of the old and new is not a bad thing. Disney has created some incredible new rides and attractions that are off the hook. Yet they have also held on to some timeless classics that draw huge crowds. What would Disney be without the Peter Pan ride and It's a Small World? They have not dismissed everything "old" as things progressed. They have built on the past for the future. Let me pause here to say that creativity does not always mean getting rid of everything "old". I have seen some churches that try to be so creative that they failed to build on the incredible foundation that has gone before us. Some elements of the church do not need to be replaced. Updated? Yes. Reformatted? Perhaps. But creativity does not always equal all things new.

6. There are some creative people in this world. Living in one of the most prominent entertainment cities in the world, I have learned that no church (yes that is an absolute statement) can "match" the productions that unbelievable creativity + unlimited money can put together. Grace Point is a creative church but we will never pull off a Cirque du Soleil show. Why? We do not have the millions of dollars necessary to put it together. There is no way the church can match the Fantasmic show that Disney puts on at MGM. We simply don't have the funds and it would not be wise to invest that type of money in entertainment even if we did have the coin. The creativity in a city like Vegas or a place like Disney is unbelievable. What we can do is tap into the creativity that God has placed around us to do what we can do with the resources God has provided. What we cannot do is be content with mediocrity because we do not have the same funding. We must learn to use what God has provided to be creative with simplicity and excellence. Here's the bottom line: a stage that can do a 180 in the air at a Cirque show does not impact someone's eternity. An animated cartoon character on a screen who can directly interact with the audience is impressive but it does not impact a community for Christ. Creativity for the sake of creativity or for the sake of sheer entertainment has no eternal value. We must seek creativity as a vehicle for the gospel but we can never seek creativity simply to "measure up" with a culture that is driven by the wrong values.

7. People will travel a long way for certain reasons. It is amazing how far people will travel to come to Disney World. I heard while in Orlando that over 50% of the people who come are international. I have heard that there are times when 70% of Vegas tourists are from overseas. It blows my mind how far people will travel and how much money they will spend to be entertained. What would it take for God to work in a church in such a way that people would travel for days to experience it?

8. All experiences have positives and negatives - try and leave people with the positives. Our trip to Disney was a blast. We had as much fun on that vacation as any we have ever had. But sprinkled amidst the fun were a few moments of frustration, anger, discipline, yelling, and impatience. Yet what I will remember were the fun times. Every environment has its positives and negatives. Fighting crowds, standing in line, waiting for the monorail, spending 45 minutes to get to your car, these are not the positive experiences at Disney, but these are not the moments I will remember. What I will remember is my children laughing, my son riding every possible ride he could ride, the funny faces we made for the cameras, getting wet on the water rides, and all of the positive moments that made our vacation so enjoyable. Principle: not every moment of the environments we create will be positive. But our goal must be for people to leave remembering the positive and not the negative. I love loud music, but if our music is so loud that is all the people remember (and not the song), we have missed it. I love creative illustrations and videos but if people leave and only remember the cute video and miss the life-changing message, we missed it. I loathe screen errors and misspellings. Not because I am such a perfectionist (well that is part of it) but primarily because it distracts from the central point. Create environments people will remember for the right reasons and not the wrong. Having the loudest band in town is cool unless it prevents you from connecting to the ones you are seeking to reach!

9. Connect to the kids and you will win over the parents. I loved Disney World because my kids loved Disney World. Actually Disney is not an adult-driven park. It is kid-driven. There are very few good roller coasters. Most of the rides are for kids but families come by the droves because their kids love it. Create environments that kids love and you will attract parents.

10. Eternity is bigger than a stupid mouse. I have to admit that I left Disney a little frustrated - frustrated because so much attention and money was given to a fictional character that makes no difference in someone's eternity. I also left Disney with a renewed passion to get people excited about the most important thing on earth - the gospel. Walt Disney created an empire around a mouse. Yet the church is part of an eternal kingdom that God has been creating throughout all of history. Now that's something to get excited about!