What is the key to success?
People all over the world are trying to figure that out. Apparently most of them never do. Eighty percent of businesses fail in the first 18 months according to Bloomberg. Churches do better, but still after only four years 32% of them close their doors. And those numbers don’t reflect churches that stop growing and just hang on for years and years without new members coming in the door. It doesn’t reflect those churches that never get off the ground. It’s only the number of churches that officially launch and still 32% fail after only four years. But somehow Disney theme parks continue to be stronger than ever. Despite the bad economy, despite raising admission prices to near astronomical levels, Disney continues to grow. When I started as a cast member, the 1-day/1-park admission price was $17.95. Thirty years later that cost is typically over $100, meaning it went up about 600% over that time. Comparatively, a loaf of bread went up 400% so the price hike is not just due to inflation. And still Disney theme parks are incredibly successful. Not just financially, but numerically also. 2015 was the largest attendance year on record for the resort at over 18 million people. The funny thing is they don’t even keep the key to their success a secret. If you ask them, they’ll tell you, but it probably isn’t what you think it is.
Do they focus on the bottom line?
Do they optimize their budget? Do they analyze their work force data? Nope. Disney’s key to success is happiness. Disney’s key to success is happiness. Right. And I have an uncle in Zimbabwe who just needs a kind Christian person to help him retrieve millions of dollars from an account for which he will pay you handsomely. I know it sounds hokey. I know it sounds unbelievable. But it’s true. And it’s true because the philosophy behind it is sound. When you focus on what’s important, everything else falls into place. There was a time when the company forgot their own statement of purpose and it cost them dearly. They nearly got bought out by an aggressive investment group. They had become mediocre without realizing it, focusing on trying to keep Walt’s company the same while the world was rapidly changing around them. They worried more about losing the company than on making it better. And by doing so nearly lost it all.
We create happiness is their company purpose.
The full statement of purpose is “We create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment for people of all ages, everywhere.” It’s a pretty bold statement, but at its heart is a philosophy that began with Walt. We create happiness. And the reason it works is because that is precisely what people are looking for when they walk through the gates of Disneyland. They are looking to be happy. So when the company provides exactly what guests are looking for, they leave happy. And when they leave happy the want to come back. And when they come back they bring their friends and family, dates and kids, and so on and so on and so on. Not that “creating happiness” is an easy thing to do. John Hench once said, “…for all its success, the Disney theme show is quite a fragile thing. It just takes one contradiction, one out-of-place stimulus to negate a particular moment’s experience…Tack up a felt tip brown paper sign that says, ‘Keep Out’… take a host’s costume away and put him in blue jeans and a tank top…place a touch of artificial turf here…add a surly employee there…it really doesn’t take much to upset it all.” So they focus on it. They make it the central core of what they do. And they do it well.
So what do people want from the church?
What do we have to offer that they can’t get somewhere else? That’s the question we need to answer. Disneyland provides family entertainment and the key to good entertainment is to make people happy. Whether that’s by thrilling them with incredible attractions, touching their hearts by creating opportunities to meet characters dear to their heart, or offering incredible treats that stir your tummy, it’s all about happiness. But what is our purpose as a church? To bring the world to Christ. That is our purpose. To bring the world to Christ. And that’s not just what Jesus told us in the Great Commission, but what he did in his every day life. Here is Mark 2:13-17 we can read how Jesus did just that.
13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
If we exist in the world to bring those far from Christ into a relationship with him, what do we need to do?
We have to meet them where they are. That’s what Jesus did. This was just one example of how Jesus went to the people instead of waiting for them to come to him. He didn’t host a bake sale at the temple and hope people would suddenly become aware of the love of God in their lives. He went to where they were, ate and drank with them, made friends with them, and in that way helped them to see with their own eyes and in their own way who he was. He didn’t force them to adapt to his ways, he went to them and interacted with them in ways that appealed to them and by making that sacrifice, they were willing to hear him. It’s a strategy that worked for Jesus so it’s no wonder that it’s a strategy that worked for Walt as well.
Walt’s philosophy was simple – find out what the people want.
He once said, “You don’t build it for yourself. You know what the people want and you build it for them.” And the way he did that was by paying attention to others, learning what they wanted, and really listening to their needs. One time when Disneyland was first open, some of his team noticed that people were walking through the flower bed. They were creating their own path and the people around him were saying, “I guess we need to build a fence here to make sure people don’t walk through the flower bed.” Walt said, “No, what we need to do is tear out the flower bed and create a better walkway. People are telling us what they need with their actions. We need to listen to them.” And he did. How many times can you think of when people carved out their own trail? When I was at UCLA, there was a well-worn path out behind the residence halls that led to the street. Everyone used it so much that nothing grew around it. It was obvious that this was a much needed walkway, but no one did anything about it. Walt did. When the same thing happened at Disneyland he “listened.” One of my favorite Walt stories is about the time he was found talking to three guys from the custodial night shift. A biographer was writing Walt’s story and Walt asked him to meet up at the park before it opened. When the biographer found Walt he was chatting with these three guys and so the biographer waited until Walt was done and then asked, “Do you do that often?” Walt did. He spent lots of time just talking to people visiting the park and listening to what they had to say. It was harder as he became more well known, but he would spend time talking with the average Joe just to hear their input. When the biographer asked about it, Walt said, “I do it and I do it a lot because I never know where my next great idea is going to come from.”
How well do we listen?
Or are we like the Pharisees in our story this morning who just didn’t get it? I often go back to something another Craig said, “To reach people no one else is reaching, we have to do things no one else is doing.” Craig Groeschel said that was the philosophy he used in the church he served, LifeChurch. And if you use a Bible app, you probably know him because his church developed the first free one available to the public. He also routinely gives away his worship material. He has one of the strongest online presence of any religious group. And his church routinely worships over 18,000 a week. They started with just a handful in a warehouse not that long ago. And it’s because of this philosophy. “To reach people no one else is reaching, we have to do things no one else is doing.” At its core it means we have to constantly be willing to innovate and do things differently to be an effective church.
We provide something unique.
Something you can’t find anywhere else in the universe – the key to eternal salvation through Jesus Christ. We offer something that will last not only a lifetime but forever. We offer something that not only is a guarantee for the next life, but makes this life so much better! So how come the entire world isn’t Christian? Because we haven’t always done a good job of listening to people and meeting them where they are. Because churches have at times been judgmental and condescending. Because the truth is our own comfort and our own desires and our own unwillingness to meet the needs of others has outweighed our mission to help others know Jesus. That is why Christian churches all over the world are in decline – because we have failed to meet people where they are. Instead we wonder why they aren’t where we want them to be. We blame them for their own lack of knowledge. We accuse them of not wanting to know Christ. And we accept no responsibility of our own actions or lack thereof. We need to do better. I take this personally because I know the only reason I am here today is because I have met people in my life who were willing to offer the love of Christ in different ways until I could see it for myself. It didn’t all happen at once and it wasn’t easy to get me to see how much I needed Christ, but I am so grateful now to God and to those who helped me for making that effort. Can we do any less for those around us who still need to see Jesus made real in their lives?
 Disney’s Approach to Customer Service, Disney Institute, p.21.
 Ibid, p.29.