What the Church Can Learn from Disney

I’m often amazed at the way some Christians seem to despise all things Disney.

A few years ago, during a workout at Curves, I heard two moms discussing how Christians needed to boycott Disney because of its routine use of pagan and magical ideas in their cartoons. I remember thinking, “Really? It’s a cartoon. They’re just stories. Is this really something worth fighting over?”

Then last fall, my small group and I read and discussed Skye Jethani’s book, “The Divine Commodity”. Though the book made for fascinating discussions, the author spoke negatively about Disney on multiple occasions. For example, Jethani states that “incapable of inspiring the citizens of the world as Walt had dreamed, Epcot has become a subject of ridicule and mockery.” (16)

Having just been to Disney last summer, I remember reading this and thinking, “Has this guy ever even been to Disney?” His description of Disney was certainly not what I experienced when I was there.

In fact, this morning as I was scrapbooking, I stumbled upon a picture I took of the banners that greeted me last year at Disney. They simply said, “Celebrate Today.” Upon seeing this picture, I was reminded that rather than be at war with Disney, I think that in actuality, there are at least three things that the church can learn from Disney:

1) That we should indeed, “Celebrate Today.” This may well be an ad campaign designed by Disney, intended to make people feel good, thereby increasing their happiness and their willingness to shell out a lot of money at the Disney theme parks. Yet, how sad that a secular organization has come up with what should rightfully be the church’s slogan, “Celebrate Today.” After all, who has more to celebrate than those who believe in and follow Christ? Just think how many of Jesus’ stories and parables feature celebrations – wedding feasts, banquets, parties, and the like. Consider that Jesus, himself, tells his disciples in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” That, my friends, is reason to celebrate!

2) That imagination is worth cultivating. Despite Jethani’s allegation that Epcot is “incapable of inspiring the citizens of the world,” I found exactly the opposite to be true. Every one of the Disney exhibits and attractions that I visited stoked, rather than dampened, my imagination. I left inspired, desiring to use my imagination to create something, anything. This reminded me that our imagination is powerful and perhaps more importantly, that it’s needed. For without it, it’s impossible for us to imagine – let alone help usher in – the kind of world that the Old Testament prophets and Jesus himself called and commissioned us to be part of.

3) That everyone matters. While my husband, Doug, and I were at Disney, we were fortunate to be shown around by one of Doug’s high school friends, Mike, whose dream has always been to work at Disney. As Mike showed us around the different parks, I was floored by people’s attitudes and the strength of the Disney culture. From the guy sweeping the park grounds, to the concession operator, to the ride operator, to the guy playing Mickey, to the manager, Disney employees are all known as “cast members” and each takes pride in his job. Each believes that what he’s doing is important and because of this, there is unity amongst the cast members, who seem to have a mutual admiration and respect for one another, without any appearance of a typical corporate hierarchy. It seems to me that this is actually the way the church is supposed to be. As 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” Just imagine what church would look like if we really lived this; If we behaved more like the Disney family, each believing in the others importance; Each believing in the cause of Christ.

Say what you will about Disney, but any place where everyone matters, life is celebrated, and imagination is cultivated is one where I want to be. And if that’s true, then how much more appealing might church be if it, too, was a place where everyone mattered, life was celebrated, and imagination cultivated?

Comments

Steven Barr

Jen,

Your insights are valid. As a former Cast Member and now a pastor in San Antonio, Texas, we are planting a church using much of the Disney methodology. In fact we use this description: Bibilcal Truth + Disney Imagineering = THE ADVENTURE

Unfortunately, many people confuse theology and methodology. Our theology will never change because it is rooted in Scripture. However our methodology must have the freedom to be as creative as possible, focusing on reaching the lost and making disciples.

Leonard Sweet said over a decade ago that a church to connect in the coming years it would have to be EPIC: Experiential, Participatory, Imagery Driven, and Connected. Disney has already figured out how to use these filters. We as a church could learn from them.

What is most exciting is that we, as a church have one thing Disney does not: The Holy Spirit. Can you imagine what kind of creative things the Church could accomplish when we lean into the Holy Spirit’s creativity? Who knows?: Maybe one day will come to the church as ask “how did you do that?”

I believe that day will come.

Blessings,

Steven Barr
Vision Pastor
THE ADVENTURE
San Antonio, Texas

Posted by Steven Barr, over 7 years ago

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

More about Jen

Jen's Books

Now Available!

A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

Order Now

Now Available!

Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

Order Now

The Real Jesus

Order Now

The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

Order Now

Subscribe

Categories

Tags

Recent Posts

Archives