We Create Happiness

We create happiness.

That is the key to Disney’s success.  Eighty percent of businesses fail in the first 18 months.[1]  Churches seemingly do better, but after only four years 32% of them shut their doors, too.  And those numbers don’t reflect stagnant churches or those that never get off the ground.  But Disney just keeps swimming, just keeps swimming.  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.[2]  At the end of the 2018 fiscal year, the theme park division alone made over 20 BILLION dollars thanks to those visitors.[3]  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 800%, and yet there are more people coming to the park every day than there ever were when I was there. How does happiness spell out success for Disney?

From L to R: Multi-plane camera, Country Bear Jamboree (audio animatronics), Frontierland covered trash cans, and Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure

It almost didn’t.

Walt’s vision for the company was a singular passionate focus on creating happiness in whatever form that took – movies, television, theme parks.  It drove everything he did.  And because he was so passionate about it, it led him to be an innovator and creator of new things.  The multiplane camera, audio-animatronics, covered trashcans, and a family-friendly amusement park are just a few of those ideas.  But after Walt died, the company changed their focus from being a creator of happiness to being a keeper of Walt’s legacy.  They thought they were honoring Walt by protecting his company, but what they didn’t realize was his success was due to Walt’s singular drive to keep getting better, to find new ways of making people happy.  Disney instead went into turtle mode, more concerned about keeping things the status quo than looking ahead into the future and they almost lost the company.  But they found new leadership in another visionary, Michael Eisner, and Walt’s nephew Roy, who understood Walt’s passion, and they were able to reinvigorate the company behind Walt’s singular principle – We Create Happiness.

To be successful, you need to have that singular focus.

Something that drives you.  Something you’re passionate about.  And something that meets the needs of the world around you.  That isn’t a Disney platform for success, but a formula for success we can apply anywhere including the church.  Too many churches lose that singular focus and become turtles.  They stop having a purpose beyond existence, keeping the status quo.  But we can be successful in what we do as a church if we have a purpose that meets the needs of the world around us and we focus on that purpose.  What is it the world needs that the church can provide?  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 the love of Christ can sustain us through hard times and can make us into better people.  We know 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.  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. 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 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.”[4]  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.  Maybe it’s because we have lost our focus.  Maybe we’ve become too much like a turtle and started worrying more about preserving the church we love instead of transforming the church into what it needs to be.  When we keep our heads in the game, when we keep the main thing, the main thing, the rest will take care of itself.  At 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 the world measures as a success – money, influence, etc. – will follow.  Other companies, other organizations, start worrying about the bottom-line, about how much their stock is worth, about how they stack up to other theme parks and movie studios.  But Disney focuses on its one true purpose, on what the world needs and what they can provide – happiness.  They know 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. 


[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericwagner/2013/09/12/five-reasons-8-out-of-10-businesses-fail/#755787b95e3c

[2] https://www.wdwinfo.com/news-stories/global-theme-park-attendance-grew-5-in-2018-with-disney-still-on-top/

[3] All park income figures from the WDC report from https://www.themeparkinsider.com/flume/201811/6396/

[4] From Catalyst West many years ago

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