6 Universal Principles Learned at Universal Studios

Have you ever experienced something so well-done that you forgot about the science behind it and almost believed it was magic? That’s what my trip to Universal Studios in August was like. Magical.

Think what you want about Harry Potter, but the Wizarding World of Harry potter was incredible. It felt like we were there. I started to look around and asked “Why does it feel this way?” So, I jotted down a few observations about how Universal operated and thought, “Can these principles apply to my church? Are these principles…universal?” Rimshot.

Here are 6 universal principles of magic I noticed at Universal Studios that I believe will make your church a place that visitors will want to come back to. Even in communications, we have to lead, so these leadership principles are good if you’re a pastor, communications director, or volunteer leader.

Before we get started, you guys know magic isn’t real, right? You also know I know that too, right? Also, this is kind of a long post, so maybe save it and come back if you get tired. Ok, let’s go.

Give Roles, Not Jobs

It’s about ownership.

From the person managing the line to those who greeted you when you returned from the ride, there was ownership and enthusiasm because they were playing a role in the story, not just performing a task.

Everyone had a character name tag. It was one of the many details that made the experience more believable: they seemed to believe it. They weren’t just selling toy wands, they were dressed as wizards selling wands. The minions did minion stuff.

What if your volunteer teams or staff became part of the “story” of your church by assuming their role? I mean, anyone can perform a task, but not everyone becomes the character in the story.

It’s been my experience that “Hey Seth, here’s your job and here’s how you do it” isn’t nearly as powerful as “Hey Seth, here’s why what you do is important and how it makes our vision comes to life.”

Right now, I’m working on giving my staff one-sentence job descriptions that will be a summary of what their role is, not a list of their tasks. My hope is that it will keep the focus on who we are trying to be, not just one what we’re trying to do.

Magic Still Requires Effort

It’s about hard work.

Even though a ride or spell in Harry Potter-world seemed like magic, it took a lot of careful planning, detail work, and effort to create a magical, immersive experience for everyone. Lots and lots of forward-thinking went into everything.

The paintings on the wall even moved and talked while you were waiting in line (mostly in the a/c) and set up the story of the ride you were about to get on.

We’re not about putting on a show at church, so this one is tough for some people to separate “pretending to be something we’re not” from “doing our best as to the Lord.” Certainly, there’s a balance, but excellence has to be part of our DNA. In my experience, whenever I’ve said something like “it doesn’t have to be perfect” it’s been more out of my own laziness than a balanced satisfaction with my work.

We create environments at our churches where we hope people far from the Lord will come and be engaged with His Word, His Spirit, and His Truth. We have to be willing to do the hard work to create an environment that removes barriers to that happening in our specific context. Do work, son.

Smiling is the Best Evangelism

It’s about word of mouth.

About every 20 minutes, the dragon on top of Gringotts would rumble and then blast hot fire out across the square filled with people. You could feel the immense heat on the ground each time and it was awesome. The crowd gathered round to see it without fail, phones at the ready. They couldn’t wait to show their friends back home how awesome it was.

But the truth is, most of us already knew about the dragon. Word travels fast when the word is about something we enjoyed. What’s the word on your church in your community? You may want to do a survey or something and find out.

According to a Buffer study, one of the reasons people share things on social media (and via word-of-mouth) is because we were entertained by it or enjoyed it. Making people smile and laugh breaks relational barriers and creates the strongest evangelists for whatever you’re selling.

We sell Jesus to the lost and one of the ways we do that is to sell our church to the community. However, when they show up they don’t smile. They don’t laugh. Why? Because our church is serious.

Seth, we take our mission seriously. There’s no place for silly stuff in church when people’s souls are at stake!

I say it’s because their souls are at stake I try to have fun. Fun is a big reason most people share things, engage with things, listen to people. Entertainment isn’t bad, guys. Our definition of the word is.

Or am I the only one who understands why the world cares what uneducated celebrities say about politics, science, and religion? You’ve entertained me, therefore, I care what you think. In other words “You’ve brought value to one part of my life, I will allow you the chance to bring value in other parts of my life too.”

Set up a photo booth, make funny videos, do fun giveaways on social, and for the love stop taking yourselves so seriously. People might actually enjoy your church.

Personal is Always Possible

It’s about caring.

In a huge place with kids desperately trying to turn lights off and on by waving wands at invisible sensors, it would have been easy to wash your hands of their success or failure.

But because they want every kid to have fun, they planted employees to help every kid succeed at each station. Even in a place that big, personal is possible.

My son couldn’t get the wand to work right. He had such a hard time. At his first try, he got so frustrated that he started to cry. Then something truly magical happened…

The young lady who worked at that station, dressed like a witch, took him to the side, knelt down and comforted him. She said “Hey, magic is hard. That’s why they go to school for it. They just have to keep trying and they eventually get it. It was like that for Harry, so it’s going to be like that for you too. Think we can keep trying?” Totally in character.

She then took him back over and helped him make the movements and finally, he got it. The smile came back.

No matter how big or small your church is, personal is possible. We have a rule at our church that we never point people in the right direction; we walk them there personally. It doesn’t matter who you are in the organization, if you’re too busy for personal interactions with your people, you’re missing not only huge opportunities but the point altogether. Looking at you mega-church pastors who can never be found before or after services.

No Matter the Budget, It Can Still Go Wrong

It’s about the mission.

The Dudley Do-Right log ride was best log ride I’ve ever been on…and I hated it. Why? Because the line wasn’t shaded, the inside part had no entertainment, and we were crammed in there like sardines with no fans circulating the air. It was a pretty miserable wait.

Honestly, that’s a pretty normal theme park experience, but the context ruined it. In comparison to the other lines, this was horrible. This is the pile of trash in the corner they’ve learned to live with that could be taken care of easily, but isn’t for some reason.

I know that churches can have the biggest budgets, the best resources, tons of people to volunteer, the greatest speaker, and a worship band with a few Dove awards and still turn people away if one thing is completely horrible in comparison.

I’ll get personal on this one. I don’t like having kids 5th grade and below in worship. I won’t go into my reasons in detail here except that I find it personally very distracting. But I don’t really blame the kids, I blame the parents who let their kid who could care less about listening to a guy talk for 45 minutes bounce all over the chairs, wad up paper and throw it, or take 10 minutes to open that peppermint wrapper.

If you have the best preaching and worship, friendly people, great ushers, and a top notch video/graphic team, I don’t want to come back. Why? Because trying to understand a complicated point while being constantly distracted annoys me and I don’t want to deal with it. I see it like many others do as a waste of my time on Sunday when I could be doing other things.

That’s an extreme example, I know. When we think about the details, but leave that one smelly pile of whatever in the corner, it can distract from the hard work that went into everything else and ruin an experience for someone.

Everyone Wants to be the Hero

It’s about a bigger story.

Whenever we think about how to compel people to do something, we have to start here. In each person’s heart is a desire to be swept up into a story that’s bigger than they are in which they can become a hero to someone.

People do not lack information, they lack inspiration!

When we talk to people in our church, we often focus on ourselves. We tell them that “they don’t want to miss it” (yes they do) or “It’s going to be epic” (It’s probably going to be regular) and expect them to show up.

We have great stuff for you that we think you’ll enjoy. That type of phrasing places the church at the center. We’re now the hero of the story in their lives. But they don’t want that.

They want to be the hero of their lives.

Here’s the introductory copy for an ad for our marriage ministry, Re|Engage, I wrote for our church:

Instead of just hoping your marriage will automatically get better, take steps toward a healthy marriage now! Beginning the second week of September, re|engage is expanding its reach to all of our campuses!

See how this copy puts the reader in the driver’s seat? They all hope their marriage lasts or will improve, but what are you doing to make sure it does? You (the reader) are the hero who can save your marriage!

Now, do we know that only God can help their marriage? Yes. And that’s what they’ll get when they get to class. But if we are going to meet people where they are, we have to realize what they care about most of all: themselves.

Make them the hero and your attendance for events and sign ups will go up. We all want to be the one who defeats the emperor and saves Darth Vader from the dark side.

I’m sure there are those of you who are fist-punching the air and those of you who are shaking your head at me. Throw your thoughts into the conversation below and I’d love to connect with you on Instagram!

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  • Gail
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    Love how you made your vacation relate to ministry for God. Very well done and inspiring

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