Moving to a new town is difficult, especially for children. When we moved to Los Angeles County, it was a homecoming for me, but my kids had only known life in rural northern California. So, to make things easier, my wife and I promised them annual passes to Disneyland.
OK, the passes weren't just for them.
Those passes expired this week. Over the past year, we spent a lot of time at Disneyland. In the process, I discovered that there are many, many people who have annual passes, and that some of them are obsessed with Disneyland. They spend every free moment at Disneyland, they have weekly meet-ups in front of Sleeping Beauty's castle, and they have online chat groups, where they discuss and debate every little thing, like whether a certain bench has been repainted, or how fast the parking lot trams travel, or why there is a platypus missing from a certain spot on "it's a small world."
Lurking in the chat rooms, I was amazed at how much time some people spend talking and thinking about Disneyland. It seemed to me that Disneyland had become more than just a place where they could go to have fun once in a while. Reading their conversations, I could tell that they felt a real sense of ownership over the park. Disneyland had become a part of their life, and something about which they were very passionate.
As a pastor, I wondered why Disney can get that kind of passion and commitment from people. What holes in peoples' lives was Disneyland filling? And what can a church that is committed to being a movement for wholeness learn from this?
I wanted answers, so I joined their online community. I asked the "mice-chatters" (as they are called): "What about Disneyland is so meaningful to you? Why is it such a big part of your life, even when you're not there? And what can I, as a church leader, learn from all this?"
Some in that online community were taken aback by my question. They were used to less philosophical topics, like, "Why is the back row on Big Thunder the best?" or, "Did you see the drummer from Blink 182 on the Alice in Wonderland ride yesterday?"
A number of people responded to my question by saying they go to Disneyland to escape reality, and that there are no lessons there for the church, which must remain in the "real world." That's a true enough assessment, I suppose, but I wasn't satisfied with it. I wanted to go deeper with the question.
Eventually, I got this response: Disneyland was born out of one man's passion, a man who wanted to do things right. The level of quality there surpasses anything else in the world.
I think the author of that response was on to something. On my visits to Disneyland, I had fun, yes; but I also noticed things like the trees and flowers which blend in to the scenery well, but which clearly are the result of an immense amount of landscape design and gardening. I noticed details in the architecture, in things like window sills and balcony railings. Disneyland wasn't just built; it was built well. At Disneyland, "good enough" isn't good enough; only excellence will do.
The people who work at Disneyland share the passion. Never mind that the operators of Space Mountain have to unload, load, and dispatch a train every 30 seconds (or something like that) or the computer will shut the ride down; they still do their best to treat guests with courtesy and respect.
Because of all this, when I'm at Disneyland, I get the feeling that I belong there, that Disneyland wants me there. Yes, I know that what Disneyland really wants is my money; however, because I get a red-carpet treatment whenever I visit, I have willingly given Disneyland quite a bit of money over the past year. To feel welcomed, and to be treated with dignity in a place that insists on doing what it does with the highest level of quality: that's worth something. It's worth quite a lot, actually.
The basic message of the church, in its simplest form, is "God loves you." That message is worth something, too. It's worth getting passionate about. It's worth committing our time and our resources, so that we do the best possible job in sharing that message with the world.
Don't you agree?
If you're interested, you can see all of my Disneyland photos from the past year here.