The Billion Dollar Mistake

Part 1 of our 3 part Disney Series

It is never too late to change.

It is never too late to change. I had a guy come up to me once, a great guy, a salt of the earth kind of guy, a guy who most of us would have called devoted to Christ (I called him devoted to Christ) who said to me, “I’m too old to start reading the Bible.”  I’ll tell you the same thing I told him.  You’re never too old to start reading the Bible.  You are never too old, never too young, never too overweight, never too weak, never too uneducated to start making the changes in your life to become better at whatever it is you need to become better at.  I’m not saying things will work out the way you’re hoping for because otherwise I’d be a doctor / lawyer / Olympic gymnast right now.  I am saying do not let your doubts and fears get in the way of being the person God created you to be.  Do not let your preconceptions and misconceptions create roadblocks for the innovations God is trying to introduce in your life. 

I like Disney…just a little bit.

You probably noticed I like Disney. Just a little bit.

I admire how they have been able to be successful on just about every level of entertainment.  And it’s not luck. They have done so in large part through strategic innovation. Over the next few weeks, we will take a look at how the Walt Disney Company uses strategic innovation to create environments for growth and how we can use those same techniques in our church to help us reach out in love for Jesus.  Disney is constantly pushing boundaries on how to do things differently.  And it is a willingness to embrace change that has allowed them to be a step or two or ten ahead of everybody else.  For the past 10 years, Disney theme parks have nearly triple the attendance and quadruple the revenue of any other theme park.[1]  In 2019, Disney had eight of the top ten films worldwide, all of which made more than a billion dollars each.[2]  If we could capture the kind of magic people feel when visiting a theme park or seeing a Disney movie, we would have the same problems they do – how to manage too many people wanting to come experience what they have to offer.  Wouldn’t that be a nice problem to have?

NOT! We don’t have to copy Disney to adapt their best practices

That doesn’t mean we are going to install a Rapture roller coaster.

Or build a dark ride called Voyage of the Twelve Disciples.  But too often, we dismiss what we can learn from others and pass up opportunities that could help us achieve our goal – to bring the love of Christ to the world.  Call it pride.  Call it ignorance.  We don’t always embrace change, especially if it comes from outside these walls.  I don’t need to tell you how quickly church as we know it is becoming irrelevant to the outside world.  Not the love of Christ.  Not the Word of Christ.  Not the lessons of Christ.  But this institution we call the “church” is becoming irrelevant to the outside world.  You only need to look at an attendance sheet to see that truth.  As the number of people who are affiliated to a specific church decreases, what we’re finding is people still claim to feel a spiritual need.  They’re just not finding it IN THE CHURCH!  If we want to achieve our goal to bring the love of Christ to the world, we need to expand our idea of church, redefine what it means to be engaged in the church, and look for ways to be relevant to a world that needs the love of Christ more than ever. 

The willingness to change is important.

When something isn’t working, you have to be willing to do what it takes to make it right.   That’s one of the ways Disney has been so successful.  More than most companies, Disney does the hard work to avoid the pitfalls BEFORE they happen and they do that by adapting quickly to the outside world.  That doesn’t change their core beliefs or the purpose of the company.  But they find ways to achieve their goals by being willing to change when it’s needed.  This isn’t just a Disney philosophy.  We see the apostle Paul echoing this same sentiment in his letter to the church at Corinth. 

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Paul is the model for change.

There’s no one in the Bible who had a more drastic about face in his thinking than Paul and arguably people would say Paul did the most for bringing the love of Christ to others.  He felt helping others to know Jesus was so important he would adapt to whatever circumstance he was in.  He called it being made “a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.”  He didn’t consider it demeaning or compromising to adapt to his surroundings.  In fact he felt it was necessary to meet people where they were.  Whether it was with the Jews or with the Gentiles or with anyone he was willing to do whatever was necessary to help them understand what it meant to follow Christ.  We need to meet people where they are, not where WE want them to be.  And that means changing ourselves and how we relate to the world.  Paul says in verse 22, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”  Even Paul knew he wasn’t going to save the entire world by himself.  Still, to even help some, he knew he would have to constantly change how he related to people.  He couldn’t afford to wait for people to come to him and we need to do the same. 

What DCA looked like before the $1.1 billion makeover

It takes a willingness to change.

For all their meticulous planning, Disney sometimes gets it wrong.  That’s what happened with Disney’s billion-dollar mistake or as we call it today, Disney California Adventure. For nearly a decade they couldn’t figure out why people weren’t coming to the new park like they expected.  When they did the research, they found out they had really missed the mark.  They compromised their standards and cut corners to save money and it cost them dearly.  They recycled old carnival rides with fancy paint jobs, but Disney fans saw right through it.  The lack of Disney characters in the park made it feel even more un-Disney-like.  So the Imagineers who create the magic went back to the drawing board and what they came up with cost nearly twice as much as it did to initially create the entire theme park.  $1.1 billion!  And it worked. Attendance increased by nearly 4 million visitors per year since the park’s opening, an increase of nearly 50%.[3]  But it took a willingness to change to achieve the results they hoped for.  They had to admit what they did wasn’t working and then be willing to do something about it. 

What are we willing to do for Christ?

Can we be like Disney or better yet, can we follow the example of Paul?  Can we be “all things to all people so that by all possible means we might save some?”  It’s not easy, but then God has never asked us to do what’s easy.  He just promises to be there with us as we do it.  It requires sacrifice on our part.  It means giving up the way we do things, things we love or things we are familiar with.  It means volunteering for a children’s ministry when all your kids are grown and gone.  It means reexamining how we give and how we worship and how we “do church.”  It means giving things a chance we may not always agree with.  The truth is how we do church is changing.  The message isn’t but the method is.  And the world needs the love of Christ more than ever before.  If we are to be effective in reaching people with the love of Jesus we have to change with it. 

One of the keys to Disneyland’s ongoing success is their willingness to change.

Walt was never afraid to do something different if it meant creating an environment that would welcome his guests.  He is famous for saying, “Disneyland will never be completed, as long as there is imagination left in the world.” And he meant it.  He once said, “To keep an operation like Disneyland going, you have to pour it in there.  It’s what I call, ‘Keeping the show on the road.’ You have to keep throwing it in; you can’t sit back and let it ride.”[4]  The same is true for the church and is true for ourselves.  We can’t afford to sit back and let it ride.  We need to challenge ourselves to grow and learn and get better at whatever it is we are doing.  Whether that’s in the church, outside of the church, with our families, or even ourselves.  I hope and pray that we will always have that spirit of being able to embrace change.  When we are willing to change, we can change the world.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_amusement_park_rankings and https://www.statista.com/statistics/258810/theme-und-amusement-park-companies-ranked-by-revenue/

[2] https://www.boxofficemojo.com/year/world/2019/ – I included Spider-Man: Far From Home which is technically a Sony film but done in conjunction with Marvel and using Marvel characters.  Since the pandemic, revenue has been hard to track and then this past year China has barred most US productions from showing their films in China. 

[3] http://www.ocregister.com/articles/attendance-664115-percent-year.html

[4] http://www.ocregister.com/articles/disney-671663-disneyland-imagination.html

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