The minute the Rev. Christopher Perry began to present a link between the success of the Disney empire and the bold possibilities of the church experience, his audience was all ears.
"Theme parks had been around, and rides had been around, but what Walt Disney did was create a complete immersive environment where you got to live out a story, not just ride a ride," said Perry, addressing a roomful of attendees May 2 at the Church House in Cleveland.
"That’s what Disney does better than anyone else," said Perry. "And that’s really where we as the church need to excel."
Living out the story of God must supplant going to church every Sunday and "going through a few motions –– which is what we’ve all gotten into," said Perry. "We come into church, we do X Y Z, we say the right prayer, we sing the right song, we do the right things, we all speak our Christian-ese, and we go home.
"And we wonder why our lives aren’t being transformed."
Appearing as part of The Igniting Leadership Series presented by The Pilgrim Press, Perry is the author of "The Church Mouse: Leadership Lessons from the Magic Kingdom."
As part of his work, Perry advocates for a four-part "EPIC" plan for churches to consider in bolstering vitality and helping congregations focus on the bigger picture and a more proactive approach to immersion. The four keys to the EPIC acroynm are:
- Experiential ("When people come to worship, do they feel like they have experienced God? Or have they simply acknowledged God?")
- Participatory ("Would you rather have the book read to you? Or would you rather participate in the story?")
- Image-driven ("What do you think people will remember longer –– a 15-minute sermon or a genuinely powerful image?")
- Connection ("We live in a world that is more wired than ever, yet more disconnected than ever. How many of my friends on Facebook do you think would show up at my funeral?")
"The big piece for us has always been the hospitality," said the Rev. Bob Dreese, pastor of First Grace UCC in Akron, where 70 percent of the congregation has been coming to the church for less than five years. "How do we not just say we’re a welcoming and friendly church, but how do we really play that out?"
Dreese said the "participatory" and "image-driven" pieces of EPIC spoke most loudly to him. "I’m a visual person, I’m not a lecture learner," he said. "So the whole image thing, for me, is good."
In the afternoon session, Perry covered topics including creating a church culture, offering intentional training, paying attention to detail, and recognizing that everyone is important.
Perry is pastor of Robinson Springs United Methodist Church in Millbrook, Ala., as well as adjunct professor at Huntington College and Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky.
The co-author of "Learning To Talk Sheep: Understanding Those You Lead" (The Pilgrim Press, 2010), Perry received his M. Div. and D. Min. degrees from Asbury Theological Seminary.
He is a featured presenter at the Creativity Conference – Leadership Nexus held each January in Orlando, Fla., and is an instructor with the Disney Institute.
On Sept. 27, Perry will present a webinar on Creative Preaching as part of The Igniting Leadership Series.