Disneyland for Churches?
I basically grew up at Disneyland. Not literally, mind you – but kind of. I grew up in Southern California. I was a charter member of the Mickey Mouse Club (if you don’t believe it, see my accompanying certificate…it’s official). I also took yearly school field trips, entertained scads of friends and relatives, celebrated my high school senior all-nighter, and even did “Jesus Night” (yes, that was a thing) all at the original Disneyland.
When my son was four, my husband and I took Luke to Disneyland for the first time – and I bawled all the way down Main Street because I was so overcome with emotion. But the tears quickly dried after Luke was nearly scared to death on “The Pirates of the Caribbean” and after our emergency exit from the “Haunted Mansion.” Let’s just say “It’s a Small World” was the only safe ride after that. And that (blasted) song became my earworm for three months. So much for my “happiest place on earth.”
This is all a big lead up (while giving me a little street cred) to the webinar, “Donor Relations the Disney Way” I recently attended led by Wayne Olson. Olson started by pointing out that none of the Disney parks has the tallest, fastest, or biggest roller coasters. While people love “Space Mountain” or “The Matterhorn” people do not come to Disneyland for those rides specifically.
They come for the experience.
Specifically, Olson says, what Disney does better than almost any other business is spark creativity…and they do that without (surprisingly) spending tons of money. Disney replicates the same mechanical characters in many of their attractions and they utilize technology that has been around for decades. To spark creativity, everything at Disney tells a story. And as a result, people have fun. For example, in Disney World’s “Bear Country Jamboree” the wooden floor leading to the theater is scratched up as if the bears had been to the show first. Simple, surprising, and without words, a story is created. For more info here’s a great article: “How Disney Creates Magical Experiences (and a 70% Return Rate).”
Let’s get real. You are not Disneyland. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from Disney’s success.
Here are some simple Disney-like things you can do right now:
- Look at your interior space with new eyes. Sure, you can’t afford to repaint everything. But how about sprucing up bulletin boards or trophy cases? I can’t tell you how many churches I have been in where the most recent trophy is from 1992 or bulletin boards are layered with yellowing articles from 2009. What story are you telling?
- Spruce up the exterior of your building. A little sweeping, weeding, and a few annuals will go a long way to say, “Welcome! This is a beautiful space inside and outside!”
- Train your greeters. Make sure you have people who are warm and welcoming. Switch it up occasionally – as people walked in during our recent Youth Sunday there were four youth applauding. That definitely brought a smile to everyone who entered through the doors.
You may not have the capability to totally replicate what Disney does but you can make some small tweaks that can make a big, big difference. And if you’re feeling kind of low never, ever forget (my apologies in advance)…“It’s a world of laughter a world of tears, it’s a world of hope and a world of fears, there’s so much that we share that it’s time we’re aware, it’s a small, small world.” Keep singing!
P.S. RIP Fr. Daniel Berrigan – one of my heroes of the faith. I might not have agreed with him all the time, but I admired his witness and courage. Here’s a Terry Gross interview with Fr. Berrigan from 1988.
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past decade, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over $2.5 million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. She’s pretty sure Fr. Berrigan is rolling over in his grave being mentioned in a blog about Disneyland. She served as the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Lay Leader from 2008-2012. Her position with the Conference is funded through a generous grant from the Collins Foundation; she is available to consult with churches in Oregon and Idaho. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/inspiringgenerosity.
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Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.