In June I attended a workshop on “Managing Creativity” sponsored by Leadership Network and the Disney Institute in Orlando.  Although I didn’t get to see much of Disney during the day and half I attended the workshop, I was introduced to enough of it to have some interesting thoughts.  I first shared my initial reactions to my Disney experience with one of my list serves and received enough response that I decided to share a more expanded version with the readers of Net Results.

The initial thought I had after less than two hours at Disney was, “Wouldn’t it be exciting if our churches cared enough about welcoming strangers as does Disney?”  Every Disney employee I met, welcomed me as if they really were glad to see me.  Of course I knew why they were glad to see me . . . I was paying their salary. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if church members cared as much about sharing the Gospel as Disney employees do about getting paid?

What if every person in your church was trained to welcome “angels unaware” when they pop in at your church?  What if every person who visits your church leaves knowing that the people were glad they were there?  Would it change the way your church achieves its mission?  Perhaps it is time to regularly train our staffs and the leaders of the congregations to welcome the stranger. I’m talking about more than just training the Ushers.

After a few hours, it was apparent that everyone who works at Disney knows the Disney story… how it got started, what Walt dreamed of creating, and what role they play in creating the Disney drama each day.  Every person understood that they were a cast member of a giant play.  What would change in your church if every leader understood that they were a cast member in the great drama of divine intervention into this world?  Would it change the way your leaders came to church and responded to the guests?

It was also soon apparent that Disney had a code of conduct such as not smoking or chewing gum on the premises, saying Good Morning, Good Evening, Good Afternoon instead of Hello, or upon seeing someone taking a picture of their family asking if they could take it for them so the family member could be in the picture. Simple things, but things that showed the people of Disney were prepared to make anyone’s trip to Disney an experience they would not forget.  What if our church leaders were prepared to make the Sunday morning an unforgettable experience? What would you have to change to make that happen?

It is also occurred to me that the code of conduct gave Disney the appearance of direction. Church Mission Statements are comparable to the Disney code of conduct.  They help guests understand what your church is all about and where it is going, not to mention they give direction to how your church makes decisions. Consider how it would change the strangers view of your church, if every person they asked “What is this church all about?” was able to give them the same response.  I experienced the power of direction while visiting Trinity Church in Chicago (pastor Jeremiah Wight).  Every person I asked to describe the mission of church, including a six year old, gave me the same answer: “We are unashamed black and unapologetically Christian.”  Anyone who visits that church has no trouble discovering its mission.

Disney also confirmed the ancient/future thing that many of us futurist talk about.  The old and the future exist side by side at Disney, from pavilions to visit to old bricks running into new forms of pavement.  It’s not unusual to see Postmodern churches that are experimenting with blending the old and the new.  I don’t mean that they throw a few praise choruses in with the hymns.  Far more than that.  I mean candles, creeds, art, stained glass, video clips, projection systems, surround sound, hymns, Pearl Jam, Gregorian Chant, etc. all mixed throughout a service.  Perhaps it’s time for some of our staid, traditional churches began to experiment with new forms of worship.

The Disney presenters referred to the importance of leaders letting the “inner child” out . In the context of “Managing Creativity” that means that creativity is often a product of getting in touch with the child within us and exploring the meaning of things around us.   What if your leaders constantly asked “why” . . . “Why isn’t this working?,” or “Why can’t we try that?”  So much of the creativity at Disney comes from people who have a playful attitude. Could the same be true for your church?

One more thing about the inner child.  The ability to let the “inner child” out is one of the main things that separates most people born after 1945 from most people born before 1945.  Consider this response from one of the young pastors on my list serve: “This (the inner child comment) hits me right where God has led me over the last 6 years since seminary (cemetery)!  I struggle with how to do this in the context of leadership ‑ I know when to be serious and when to goof, but because I have been set so free to be the kid I am and God is creating me to be, it seems that for others it is  difficult for them to accept me as a leader.  (I may be projecting my fears of failure on to them, but I don’t think so.)   Are there any “kid leaders” who would be good mentors/encouragers who have seminars, books, videos, whatever?” 

Over and over, the Disney presenters focused us on the phrase “Yes, and….” instead of “Yes, but….”  Their emphasis was on providing an atmosphere in which  teams are encouraged to expand on one another’s idea,  adding a creative touch to the original idea.  Idea strings (one good thought often leads to another in the right environment) are one of the primary benefits of teams that say “Yes, and...” instead of “Yes, but...”

What happens in your church when someone comes up with a new idea? What systems do you have in place to encourage new ideas?  Is your church a permission giving or permission withholding environment?

Disney demonstrates that the experience begins in the parking lot.  All along the pathway from the parking lot to the entrance speakers played the Disney music, helping guests get in the mood.  The parking lot was immaculate.  Everything played to a theme. The landscaping was incredible.

I’ve always said that “Assimilation begins in the parking lot, not when people return for a second visit or join the church.”  What does your parking lot or the absence thereof say to the stranger? Does it give the appearance that someone lives there? How about those weeds growing in the front lawn?  Or the grass that has not been cut in several weeks?  Or the snow that you leave pilled up all winter on the parking lot?

I had my belief in paying people to make mistakes, promoting staff horizontally and letting them choose different ministries every year or so, and doing away with job descriptions reinforced and confirmed at the Institute.  Many of the people at Disney have had multiple jobs over long term tenures.  One of the persons who trained us at Disney had been with them for twenty-five years and had held numerous jobs including starting out driving a tram.

Why not do away with job descriptions and free people up to make mistakes from which they can learn instead of asking them to fulfill a pre-described set of tasks.  We are discovering that Gen Xer’s rarely will not do the same job over and over for years.  Six months to a year is tops for most of those with talent. So if they excel, let them have “roaming” jobs and cross-train them for many ministries and let them flow in and out of them over time.

One of the ideas that was generated in our group discussions was the possibility of using “touch” video walls in the church lobby.  All people have to do is touch the part of the screen that they wish to know more about and it instantly displays the information.  Of course, we must remember that if you use high tech you must be sure to give high touch.

I walked away from my Disney experience quietly praying – “God what will it take for your people to care as much about sharing Jesus with strangers as Disney cares about making a profit?”

Then the worst of all thoughts shot through my prayer – My experience at Disney was nothing more than a plastic, empty fantasy, much like what I experience at most congregations.  God help us to care more.