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Lessons Learned From Disney's Biggest Mistake

When Disney built one of their worst theme parks ever they were widely mocked. But in the end, it was a huge boost to their business and can even provide us with a road map for how we can help build community in our churches. 

Disney Resorts had a problem.

In Florida, they had multiple "gates" (parks for guests to visit) that helped to keep vacationers on their property for days or even weeks at a time. 

But in California, their spiritual home, Disney had only one gate and lots of parking lots. With that, they found that guests were only staying on their property for less than a day. In business terms, that's bad. Less meals, less hotels, less gift shops, etc. 

The solution - they built what is considered one of the worst theme parks of all time, California Adventure. However, that terrible park increased their time on-site from less than one day to almost two days.

The end result, they had enough money to buy Star Wars and Marvel for the fun of it. 


Interesting, what does that have to do with my church?

I could be wrong, but I'm 99.9% sure, building community is somewhere in your core values or mission statement. And if your people are coming to church 10 minutes late and leaving before the room lights go on or flowing straight from seat to seat (the worship center to their car), you have a community building problem. This is even more painful in a time of hybrid attendance where families may only be physically attending once a month or less. 


So how do I solve that problem? 

Programming is your most straightforward starting point.

Take a look around and ask, "What can I do to encourage people to stay longer?  Because when families stay longer, they are meeting new people, interacting with friends, and growing closer together. Everything from having after-service treats for the kids to holding special events can help to encourage families to slow down and interact with one another before they head to brunch. 

However, you can only hold so many events before your staff revolts.

So your next step can be to look at your building itself.

Is your facility or at least your interior design supporting your mission to build community? Do you have pods of chairs or sofas set up to let people hang out? Do you have benches and tables outside for families to enjoy some time together? Is there a play space for their children that can act to slow that draw of an impending NFL kick-off? All of these small changes to your space can work to support your mission while bringing families into community. We have seen so many examples where the building itself was one of our partners largest obstacles to reaching their goals. 

Beyond Sunday, we need to start to look at how we can take our facility from a one-day-a-week gathering place to a seven-day-a-week hub - not just for your church but also for your city and the community in general. 

That is where mission-first commercial development can not only help turn your excess land or space into an asset to leverage but also be a magnet for fulfilling your vision. If you have a viable location, this approach can develop commercial properties - like a Chick-Fil-a or a youth sports complex - on your land, bringing you a secure source of funding for years to come while the community flocks to your property seven days a week. 

By making these intentional changes to increase time on site - programmatic, design, or development - you can disrupt the seat to seat exodus and leverage your building to help you fulfill your vision of building a strong community.