Let Disney Teach Your Church to Innovate

Disney is a big organization attempting to stay on the cutting edge of impacting culture.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of taking a bunch of family vacations at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. I love it … partly because it’s such a fun place to visit and partly because I find leadership lessons everywhere I look. My family recently spent a week at WDW and it got me thinking about how it’s changed over the years and what those changes can teach me as I lead at my church. Disney is a big organization attempting to stay on the cutting edge of impacting culture. Here are a few of their changes that jumped out at me:

1. Personalized Technology

In 2013, Disney rolled out a series of products under the banner of MyMagic+. This technology personalizes your vacation experience. You can book your ride times from home, before you even leave for vacation. A few of the newer rides create automatic digital souvenirs, which blend music, professional video and images of you on the ride. It’s reported that Disney has spent $1 billion to provide this sort of personalization to its guests.

How are you leveraging data to make a better experience for people? What if we celebrated people’s birthdays and anniversaries as they arrived at our services each week? What if we generated name tags for people with a scan of their license plates as they pulled into our parking lots?

2. More Intimate Experiences

Disney recently finished the Magic Kingdom’s largest expansion in its history, with a completely redone Fantasyland. In the middle of many great new attractions is Enchanted Tales with Belle. It’s an almost 30-minute small group experience where you are face to face with Belle from Beauty and Beast while kids re-enact the story. Don’t miss this … Disney could have invested in a new show, ride or theater experience … but they chose to structure an incredibly intimate time where families interact directly with the story.

Growing churches need to fight the urge to move people into larger and larger crowds. How can you break your ministry into smaller communities to give intimate growth experiences? Where is the “mid-sized” community being developed at your church … between the large gatherings and small groups?

3. Global and Local Expansion 

I asked a long-time “cast member” at Disney World when the slowest time of the year is now. He commented that Disney has done a lot of global advertising to draw in guests from around the world, so there really isn’t a slow time of year due to varying vacation schedules. At the same time, WDW just opened a massive parking garage called Disney Springs as part of a new expansion project targeted at Central Florida residents and people vacationing at other Orlando attractions.

How is your church reaching out to “hard to acquire” first-time guests and more readily available “low-hanging fruit”? What’s a series of Sunday services that you could do to draw in a different demographic than you normally reach? (I love what The Meeting House is doing with some daring new ground in its series titled ISIS, Islam and Jesus … a great example of trying something new!) Who is the core community your church is perfectly tuned to reach? How can you reach more of those folks? (Have you heard of First Baptist Church at The Villages in Florida? This church is unashamedly reaching retired folks … check it out!)

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Rich Birch
Rich serves as Operations Pastor at Liquid Church in the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. He blogs at UnSeminary.com and is a sought after speaker and consultant on multisite, pastoral productivity and communications.