February 10, 2010

The Church of Disney

The January 26 issue of Christian Century magazine includes an article by Jason Byassee, "Synchronized Worship: The Rise of the Multicampus Church." The article asks the question: "What if Internet-based congregations represent Christianity's future?" The article focuses on the tens of thousands of people who attend virtual worship services using an online ministry called LifeChurch.tv. 23,000 additional churches have downloaded their resources for free while LifeChurch has its own multisite church network with 13 separate campuses connected by satellite.

Is this the future for the church?

The article quotes a pastor from one of the satellite campuses who makes this statement: "Our competition is not other churches. Our competition is Disney."

Having visited the Magic Kingdom sanctuary of The Church of Disney myself on a recent Sunday morning, I think I understand what he is saying. There were crowds of people waiting at the gate to enter the "sanctuary" at least 30" before opening. There were persons of all ages and from many different nations and cultures present that morning. Especially noticeable were the young couples with children who seem to be missing from many of our churches these days.

It seems clear to me that our competition is not other churches. Our competition is Disney. And I will confess that Disney puts together a great family-centered show that is magical in a safe, clean, and beautiful setting. The aim of the Disney experience is too allow each person who enters to escape the reality of the present world and be transformed in a magical way - if only for the day. They are very focused and very successful in what they set out to accomplish. It is not the worship of God but it is a time of celebration.

It makes me wonder what if .... What if the church were able to create some of the same excitement and joy one finds at Disney? What if the church were as creative in finding new ways to worship that drew in those of all ages and cultures in an uplifting way? What if we had families lining up outside the church doors before they opened, anticipating what was to come?

Maybe, just maybe it is true: Our competition is not other churches. Our competition is Disney ... and a host of other forms of entertainment.