The Disney Experience at Church

Feb. 23, 2013 | by Anthony Coppedge

Every church leader should make a trip to Disney Land/World as a business expense. The insights about creating a great experience result in such a significant return on ministry that the costs are more than justified.

Disney has everything about the experience locked up tight. They seemingly think of everything, even the things you probably wouldn’t think of but appreciate upon discovery. The lessons for churches are simply huge and don’t require the budgets of Disney to accomplish!


Word of mouth and web are the two main methods people will use to investigate something they’re interested in. They’ll ask their friends if they’ve experienced it and they’ll look online at the website to determine if it seems like a good fit.

Nothing speaks about success like a happy person/family talking about their great experiences, so Disney has taken user-submitted home movies (from way back in the 60′s to today) and created short stories that showcase the experience (joy, happiness, fulfillment, excitement, enjoyment, etc.). They don’t have to tell us it’s going to be great – their satisfied customers already did. (See the Disney Commerical HERE).

Churches also benefit (or suffer) from word of mouth and their website. Capturing short, compelling stories of joy, happiness, fulfillment, excitement, enjoyment and life change from a variety of people in the demographic range of the church help people decide if they want to take the next step.


Once we arrived at the airport, the Disney Magical Express made it super easy to enjoy the trip to DisneyWorld. 30 minutes in the bus went by quickly with a video showing more of the experience videos and things we can expect. If you drive into Disneyland, the large signage and easy-to-understand navigation and a small army of people in the parking lot wearing bright vests make it easy to know where to park and, once there, how to get to where you’ll need to go next.

This experience (minus the shuttle) can be applied on a smaller scale at just about any church with a number of smiling volunteers clad in bright vests making it easy to know where to park. In fact, I’ve been to several churches where signs alert first-time visitors to put on their hazard lights so they’re easily identified and given priority, up-front parking for first-time guests. Similarly, there are churches that focus on their demographic with parking near the children’s building for parents of small kids, with some churches going so far as to create single-parent parking and a smiling volunteer to help them with an umbrella on rainy days so they don’t get soaked while unbuckling their little ones from the back seat.


Cast Members (Disney employees) make sure every guest is happy and in-the-moment.

Even the sinks for kids are at the right height. They don’t miss the details.

When Disney says it’s a “Magical Experience”, they deliver. From their staff (called “Cast Members”) with smiles EVERYWHERE, to well thought-out way-finding/signage to promotional content, they consistently set an expectation and then meet it. When they don’t (my bags didn’t ‘magically’ appear in my room after the bus trip – a promise they’d made), they fix it and go above and beyond to apologize and help you get right back into a great experience. Attention to detail is the norm, with impeccably clean facilities to tiny, short sinks in the bathroom for little kids to wash up, to an obvious emphasis on customer service – Disney is smokin’ what they’re sellin’.

Too often, a church website promises “cutting edge” or “contemporary” or “relevant” something-or-other, only to end up offering what most other churches are offering: pretty good, but not-even-close-to-what-they-promised services/experiences. It’s easy to use fun adjectives and stock photography of actors having a great time, but it is a disconnect when I show up for an event, activity or service and am underwhelmed.

Don’t confuse what I’m saying. Not everything has to be top-dollar at church; it simply has to be top-effort.


Every day at Disney, I get more of the same – and that’s a very good thing. I appreciate that they don’t just make a show of first impressions; everyday their Cast Members greet, offer help and smile and welcome me. This kind of friendliness doesn’t just happen because they used Strengths Finder 2.0 to staff with the happiest people; this is a culture of making it about the experience. When intentionality is reinforced, people will rise to the occasion. Yes, I know they’re paid staff and not volunteers, but every other secular place also pays staff and doesn’t get this kind of result. Do you see the difference? That they pay staff is true but irrelevant. It’s simply expected that to work at Disney, you’re going to focus on making everything “magical” (and they even say at the end of phone calls: “Have a magical day!”).

They even highlight their best Cast Members (click on the image).

Volunteers that are public-facing (parking, greeters, hospitality, kids workers, ushers, etc.) need leaders that reinforce creating great experiences. Like Disney, setting the expectation along with the example goes a long way. Plus, I would submit that our volunteers would find more joy in being joyful and helpful than standing at a door and saying “Good morning” or “hello”.

Have your volunteer exceed expectations with greetings such as: “Have a fantastical day!” “We are so blessed to see you today!” “How can I serve you?” or even “Let me know if I can help with getting your kids checked in!”


Finally, if we share the heart of our church and consistently remind our volunteers and staff that this may be the ONLY chance to meet someone in need or help them when they’re nervous about attending for the first time, the role suddenly shifts from a “job” to a joy. I do recommend using Strengths-Finders and spiritual gifts assessments to help people plug into roles where they’ll be most comfortable, but when we put teams of people together and encourage each other, the experience becomes more consistent and, most likely, far better than our attendees anticipate.


How does your church make great experiences for all of your services, activities and events? What would you add or change from what I’ve described about Disney? What are the opportunities? What are the challenges? I’ve outlined my experiences and shared them; now it’s your turn. Comment below or link back to your blog where you’ve explored this in other ways!

Share your comment below or connect with the author on Facebook or Twitter with your ideas or questions.

Anthony Coppedge / Anthony Coppedge is a church technology consultant, speaker, and author with experience identifying strategies, building scalable systems and processes, and focusing efforts to stay true to the vision and DNA of an organization. He has served on staff at three mega churches and worked in the church management software and audio/visual industry.
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