MeTalk: What the church can learn from Disneyland

I was blessed with the ability to spend the week after Easter in Disneyland with my wife, kids, and other family. Besides taking my son on Pirates of the Caribbean for the first time [EPIC], I came away with a lot of interesting observations.

(I’m going to wax poetic about Disney a little bit here. Don’t be haters yet. Tune in next time)

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From the moment you step, or likely drive, onto the property you get the impression they have thought of everything. No less than 8 people were involved in directing me to my parking spot in the Woody from Toy Story lot. After which a line of a half dozen busses waited ready to whisk us of to the park.

Once we arrived there, on one of the busiest weeks of the year, the line to get in was no more than 90 seconds. No one was pushy, they didn’t try to snap your picture to sell it to you, and everything was simply smooth and efficient. It warmed my engineer heart.

Two things in the end stood out the most.

First, they have this thing called a stroller pass. Lots of families, it seems, are like mine. We have an older son who can ride all the rides (and wants too), and a younger daughter that hasn’t yet graduated from the Teacups (which we didn’t ride). So for the larger rides my wife or I would go with our son while the other waited with our daughter, likely riding Winnie the Poo for the 8th time.

Then, we discovered stroller swap!

As you enter the ride you can tell the attendant you have a spouse waiting with a smaller child. They then hand you a peace of paper that lets the spouse and one other person come back later and SKIP THE LINE. Not kidding. My wife rode the Matterhorn with our son, gave me the magic paper, I then went back with him, an hour or so later, and literally walked right on.

I’ve been to multiple Six Flags and Sea Worlds but never encountered this. Someone in the Disney organization thought long and hard about the issues faced by those in the park and choose to do something about it. And, even more interestingly, didn’t limit the solution to what seemed “fair.”

Here’s what I mean. It would be “fair” to let me ride quickly after my son and wife waited in line for 30 minutes. However, the point for me isn’t really to ride the ride. The point is to ride it with my son. That’s the experience I’m after. So, someone at Disney was smart enough to look past the surface problem, how do we get the three people all to ride without leaving the child alone in the stroller, and instead looked into the deeper problem, how do we get these two parents the experience they really want.

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The second thing that stuck with me was the little area in this picture tucked next to Small World. Now, Disney has lots of small green spaces. But, when you have that number of people, they don’t let you walk on any of them. If they did, they’d have nothing left. However, Disney is also very friendly with those who have assistance animals. So, what do you do when your seeing eye dog needs to do what dogs do? Someone bothered to think about that and create a solution.

But isn’t this a site abut the Church no travel tips?

Yes, yes it is.

Here is what I think the church can learn from Disneyland.

Learn to think beyond yourself.

Time after time the focus on a personal relationship with Jesus has been twisted into a very self-focused expression of the Christian faith. We train people to be concerned with, to the exclusion of nearly everything else, themselves and their issues.

Now, I’m not bashing the notion of a personal relationship, in my reading scripture testifies to that as an important goal. However, part of the job and purpose of the church is to understand and break down the barriers people have to living a full relationship with God.

That’s hard to do if you’re hungry. If you are literally worried about where food for your kids will come from.

As Christians we do a good job of looking at problems like that and offering surface solutions. People are hungry? Okay, here’s some food. You all want to ride the ride? Okay, here is one extra ticket.

The challenge is to look beneath the surface problem and see what’s really going on. Oh, your hungry because your husband is abusive. Oh, you both want to ride with your son.

I don’t mean to trivialize. However, it is really damning that Disney seems to be a better job of digging into the issue of ride equity better than the church digs into social equity.

Not matter which you are trying to do, the trivial or the serious, the process is the same. You have to step out of yourself and see what the true desire, challenges, and opertunities are for others. We know now that the recent generations did not turn their backs on God, they turned their backs on the church, and they did that because they wanted to ask questions that the church wasn’t willing to engage in.

Now is the time to engage.

The time for hiding behind differences in worship format, style, pew vs. chair is over. None of it matters in 2013. What matters is people willing look into the lives of those around them and offer messages of grace and hope that speak to the realy things they are wrestling with.

Start here. Think of someone you’ve encountered outside the church. Think of all the things you know or don’t know about that person’s life. How would you learn more? How would you learn better their struggles? Then, how would you go about bringing light to their darker places?

This is the task. This and no other.

And it doesn’t cost anything but some time.

It cost next to nothing to put a gate in the short fence around the grass for the assistance animals. Yet, for those that needed it, it made all the difference.