Like millions of others each year, our family recently traveled to Walt Disney World for vacation. The trip was a great opportunity to reconnect as a family and spend some quality time together without having to worry about work, school, or sports getting in the way. After we returned back to the “real world”, I began to think about what makes people want to endure the crowds, oppressive heat in the summer, and the high costs to make such a trip. Simply put, this is a value proposition that many people have to weigh, and most find that the attractions, interactions with beloved characters, and the creation of positive shared memories as a family far outweigh those negatives. The Walt Disney Company is so good at what it does that other companies send their employees there to learn the Disney Way. While I have not attended any of these trainings, there were still a few lessons that I picked up along the way during our vacation that could be applied to our churches.

First, while this is not specific to Walt Disney, the first lesson began with the flight. I will tell you that I am that typical business traveler that immediately puts on the headphones and starts watching a movie on the iPad as soon as I sit down, but I do occasionally listen to the safety spiel. “In the event of an emergency, please put your oxygen mask on first . . .” This is because the lack of oxygen causes hypoxia, a medical condition that results in confusion, disorientation, loss of consciousness, and ultimately death. Obviously, you are unable to assist your child, or anyone else on the plane for that matter, if you are dead. While the results are unlikely to be as dramatic, what happens to your ministry if you fail to practice self-care? Ephesians 5:29 (NIV), tells us that “After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church.” Are you so tied up in serving others that you forget to take care of yourself? Or your own family? While it often seems that the work of the Church is never-ending, you are no good to anyone if you do not stop to take care of yourself first.  What steps can you take now in order to ensure you are at your best for doing the work of the Church?

Once you arrive at Walt Disney World, you will undoubtedly find yourself in one of the many theatres watching a show. Upon entry, you will hear, “When you find a row, please move all the way down, making sure there is no empty space between you and the next guest.” It may have been a long time since you have been a visitor to a church, but have you ever taken a moment to look at your own church service with a critical eye? What happens when you, as a stranger, walk into a new environment and see a full service with no available seating? Or even worse, have to endure the stares from everyone as you walk all the way to the front pew during the middle of a worship song. No one should apologize for a full church, after all, that should be one of our goals. However, how often is the sanctuary “full” because people have placed their coats, purses, or Bibles on the seats next to them, or ensured that there is at least one empty space between them and the next person? What if we made a conscious effort to move to the front and fill in all of the empty spaces so that those that are new can easily find a seat with minimal disruption? What is your church’s procedure for greeting visitors and making them comfortable? Hebrews 13:2(NIV) states, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” What can we do to make it as comfortable as possible for those that want to come visit our churches?

Finally, while there is a lot of walking, Walt Disney World also has excellent transportation options. If you have ever spent time on the monorail, you are familiar with the phrase, “Please stand clear of the doors. Por favor, mantengase alejado de las puertas.” Visitors to Walt Disney World often find themselves in the Disney bubble and may even forget that concepts such as physics still apply. It is still possible to get hurt at Walt Disney World, and the Company often sends out these gentle reminders so people do not forget that. Similarly, those of us in the Church that have accepted Christ feel secure in our own salvation, but we must remember there are still many in our communities that remain unsaved. In Mathew 13:41, Jesus describes Hell as a blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Hell is a place that you would not even want your worst enemy to go. Who would not run after a child playing in the street and take them to safety? What would you do if your neighbor’s house caught fire and they were trapped inside? Hell is a real place, and yet, how many of us are acting with the same sense of urgency to save those that may find themselves there unless we do something? What are you prepared to do in order to bring the Good News to others?

While I know that the Walt Disney Company remains a secular company, our churches could learn some lessons from how it approaches the guest experience. What if we were equally intentional in ensuring that everything we did in our churches was done in order to fulfill the Great Commission? Perhaps then, the Happiest Place on Earth would be our churches on Sunday mornings.

Terry Tolliver
Central District Lay Leader