What is the key to success?
People all over the world since time began have tried to figure tbat out, but most never do. Did you know that eighty percent of businesses fail in the first 18 months? And while churches do better, after only four years 32% of them close their doors. And those numbers don’t reflect churches that are stagnant in their growth or never get off the ground. Still, nearly a third close in the time it takes between one Olympics and the next. But Disney… well they seem to have found the magic formula. Despite downturns in the economy when other similar business are struggling, Disney continues to be stronger than ever. Not only do they seem to keep adding new parks, but the ones they do have continue to bring in visitors by the millions – 157 million to be exact. At the end of the 2018 fiscal year, the theme park division alone made over 20 BILLION dollars thanks to those visitors. When I started as a cast member, the cost to get in the park was just under $18.00. Thirty years later that cost has risen over 600%, and yet there are more people coming to the park each day than when I worked there all those years ago. So how do they do it? When most businesses and even most churches seem to be struggling, how does Disney keep attracting more and more people every year? The funny thing is they don’t even keep it a secret.
What IS the Disney Key to Success?
Believe it or not, it’s happiness. I know it sounds hokey. I know it sounds unbelievable. But it’s true. Disney’s key to success is happiness. The foundation for their existence centers on this one idea. When Walt first made movies, he wanted to tell stories that would reach the hearts of everyone. When he created Disneyland, he wanted a place where families could build memories together. When he was planning Epcot, it was in the hope that he would build a city of tomorrow that would bring happiness and harmony to all of its citizens. He believed so much in this vision, it fueled everything he did and he was successful because it tapped into a deep seated need of all people – to find happiness. But after Walt died, the company focused not on innovation, but on keeping Walt’s legacy alive. Without realizing it, they changed the dynamics of the entire company and plunged it into mediocrity. They were so concerned about keeping things the way Walt left them, they didn’t realize Walt himself would never have left it that way. Overnight, they went from being a dynamic company of innovators to a company of mediocrity and it nearly killed them. If it weren’t for Michael Eisner, an innovator and visionary like Walt, and Walt’s nephew Roy, who understood Walt’s passion, the company would have been bought out. Instead they turned things around by reinvigorating the company behind Walt’s singular principle – We Create Happiness.
“We Create Happiness” is the goal and the vision for the Walt Disney Company.
Their 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 it is the fuel that drives the entire machine. Disney is in the business of meeting people’s needs. That’s the simple version of it. It’s far more complex in its execution, but it’s often a simple philosophy that drives most successful ventures. And when you lose sight of what is at the heart of any movement or group or company, you lose momentum. You lose direction. And you lose that driving force that compels people to want to be a part of what you are doing. And you have to be constantly vigilant about keeping your focus on the vision because success can be such a fragile thing. John Hench who worked for the company and created some of the most iconic attractions in the park 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.
The same is true for the church.
The reason we’re talking about this is because this fundamental key to success is as true for us as it is for Disney. If we want to be successful, if we want to make an impact on our neighborhood, on our community, and on our society, we have to know who we are, what our community needs, and keep that at the heart of everything we do. And by community, I don’t mean the people who are already part of our church, but the larger community outside of our walls that we serve. We have to answer the question, “What do people need that they can’t get somewhere else?” What is it that people can only get from the church? The answer is the love of Jesus Christ. The fullest expression of Christ’s love lives within the body of Christ and we are that body. We are the hands of feet of Jesus to the world. That’s why our vision is, “Transforming lives through Christ’s love.” As a church we believe that life is better with Christ. We know that the love of Christ can sustain us through hard times and can make us into better people. We know that living a life modeled after Jesus not only makes the world a better place to live in, but gives us a sense of peace and joy that honestly can’t be found elsewhere. And that’s why our focus has to be “Transforming lives through Christ’s love.”
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.”
Jesus went where he was needed.
It was a central aspect of his teaching and it’s what he did in day-to-day life. He sat down with his disciples and taught about it like in the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. And he lived it like in this passage where he had dinner with the tax collectors and the sinners. But the Pharisees didn’t get it. They looked down on people they thought weren’t worthy or who weren’t like them and thought Jesus shouldn’t be bothering with “those people.” But Jesus told them, it is for those very people he was here. People who were right with God, who knew God, who felt God’s love didn’t need him. It was for the people who were distant from God who needed him the most. He didn’t wait for them to come to him. He went to them. He came to them where they were, ate with them, got to know them, spent time with them so that they would know the love he had for them. He didn’t force them to adapt his ways. Instead, he met them where they were in life. There are tons of stories about this in the Bible. Like the story of Peter seeing the image of Christ who told him not to judge the Gentiles because they didn’t live by Jewish standards. Or the story of Paul who said he became like those around him so that he might win some to the heart of Christ. It was a strategy that worked then and still one that works now.
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 well are we listening to our community? How well are we responding to the needs of those around us? I often think of something another Craig said (Craig Groeschel of LifeChurch.tv), “To reach people no one else is reaching, we have to do what no one else is doing.” We have to be innovative and break barriers to reach people with the love of Christ. We have to have extravagant generosity and abundant kindness and patience. We have to meet people where they are at and find ways to show the love of Christ.
We provide something unique.
Something you can’t find anywhere else – the transformative power of Jesus Christ through his love. With a gift so extraordinary, you have to wonder why the whole world isn’t Christian. It’s because we have not always done a good job of meeting people where they are. Because we have at times been judgmental and condescending. Because our own comfort and our own desires have often outweighed our one true goal – to help others know the love of Christ. We have to stay focused on who we are and what we have to offer. We have to believe whole-heartedly in our purpose as a church, because it’s good and true and worthwhile. And the rest will come. When I went to a Disney Institute class on leadership, they told us the key to their success was this focus on purpose – We Create Happiness. As long as they hold on to that, everything else that the world measures as a success – money, influence, etc. – will all follow. Other companies, other organizations, start worrying about the bottom-line, about how much their stock is worth, about how they stack up to the other theme parks and movie studios. But Disney focuses constantly on making people happy. They know that if they do a good job with that, the rest will follow. The same is true for the church. When we start worrying about how much money is in the bank or how many people are in the seats over how many people know the love of Christ, we will certainly lose our focus. But if we keep in the forefront of our minds how best to show the love of Christ, how we can be relevant to this generation and the next, we won’t ever have to worry because our impact will shine.
 All park income figures from the WDC report from https://www.themeparkinsider.com/flume/201811/6396/
 Disney’s Approach to Customer Service, Disney Institute, p.21.
 Ibid, p.29.
 From Catalyst West many years ago