Disneyfication of the megachurch? What Disneyfication? 18

In WCNC’s story about Steven Furtick’s spontaneous baptisms, Rev. David Key from Emory University describes the Elevation show as a product of the Disneyfication of church. He’s right, and we see it especially clearly at NewSpring Church and their pastor’s obsession with measuring the church — usually unfavorably — against Disney’s flash and glamor.

Do we really want pastors who want to apprentice with the sorcerer's apprentice?

Do we really want pastors who want to apprentice with the sorcerer’s apprentice?

Disney has been on Perry Noble’s mind for a long time:

I personally think the church should be outdoing Vegas and Disney!  I think we have not only the ability to create…but the POWER of the HOLY SPIRIT!  Having Him actually empowers us to both dream big and then accomplish the very dreams that He placed inside of us! (May 30, 2008)

The church SHOULD be doing church better than Disney does Disney! They do it for a mouse…we do it for Jesus. We should care way more! (25 Jan, 2009)

I was once told that the church cannot compete with organizations like Microsoft, Disney and GE.  WRONG…not only do I think we can compete with them…but we can BLOW them out of the water.  We have a MUCH greater message (the Gospel), a MUCH great motivation (the Great Commission), a MUCH greater generator of ideas (the Holy Spirit) and WAY more potential than ANY other organization on the planet!!! (Jan 4, 2010)

In 2011, he prayed for God’s forgiveness on behalf of the entire Christian church because it wasn’t enough like Disney.

Maybe the best we can imagine is a few people in a room talking about things that the rest of the world does not care about.  However, I refuse to believe that a company [Disney] without YOUR Spirit should be able to trump YOUR church who does have YOUR Spirit when it comes to big dreams.  We should have THE BEST artists in the world…may we recapture that!

We can also see Noble’s Disney fascination when he’s quoted or referenced by other Tweeters.

@perrynoble, me and a few others are currently reading this book on disney: http://adjix.com/2vvf (From his former lieutenant, Tony Morgan, from 25 Jan, 2009)

“We wonder why Disney is a multibillion $ corporation and kids are leaving the church…its because church is boring” @perrynoble (A Noble quote from April 26, 2013)

Disney has greater vision than most churches. They have a mouse. We have the Holy Spirit. @perrynoble (3 Oct, 2012)

In 2012, if you had a child under 12, you could enter a NewSpring sweepstakes to win a trip to Disney.

Steven Furtick wanted to learn how Disney could help Elevation Church, too.

Can anyone tell me the single best Walt Disney biography to read? I’m most interested in his creative process & vision. (25 Oct, 2010)

We might have hoped that a pastor would look to Genesis 1 for instruction on the creative process, but maybe Pastor Steven found something more to his liking in Disney.

18 thoughts on “Disneyfication of the megachurch? What Disneyfication?

  1. Russell Feb 22, 2014 7:06 am

    NS. The greatest SHOW on earth .( I know, not Disney but you get the idea ) .? .. Maybe .. Anderson .. Yes. It’s what happens when you wish upon a star.. Instead of trusting in the STAR. I could run with more analagies but I will spare you. Truth remains …

  2. Clark Feb 22, 2014 8:02 am

    I think you miss the point. The quotes you use show that the intention is to be the best we can be as a church. We too often settle for flannel graphs and power points and expect a generation of tech savvy people to embrace that. God knows I don’t agree with everything these churches do. But I do agree that we should strive to be the best in whatever we do.

    • James Duncan Feb 22, 2014 8:35 am

      Clark, the church isn’t called to be the best; it’s called to be obedient.

      The point is that instead of measuring the church against Scripture, he’s measuring it against fantasy worlds like the Magic Kingdom and Vegas (Vegas!). When you do that, you’re going to get a lot wrong.

      The drive to be doing the “best” is what constantly led the Israelites into idolatry. Others had better and more technologically savvy gods that you could see and touch, but God told his people to be content with written words. Our God, I’m sorry to report, doesn’t care much for flashy modes of presentation. Even his most profound presentation, Jesus, was nothing to look at.

      He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. (Is 53:2)

    • Dee Parsons Feb 22, 2014 10:28 am

      Clark

      You are buying into the vision of American Christianity. Be the best you can be sums up the ads for Wheaties, Nike, etc.

      Now, look at Jesus. He was born in a cave-that was surely not impressive for the savvy people of Rome. He chose fisherman-can you imagine the Greek and Roman people following the words of fishermen? His ministry only lasted 3 years and then He died on a Cross. When He rose from the grave, he first told a couple of women who had zero power in that world.

      Jesus was countercultural. So, back to excellence. What does that really look like and who are we letting define that for us?

  3. LInn Feb 22, 2014 9:55 am

    Not only is the church to be obedient, it is also to be worshipful. Doing our very best in worship can lead to an “outstanding” (by human standards) experience that puts the entire focus on God and His glory. Worship in a larger church might involve more “stuff” (musical and technical), while it might be a guitar and a campfire out in the open. The point is the end result–glorifying God and not trying to duplicate the world’s sense of what makes for a profound, moving experience. Disneyland and Vegas are artificial experiences to manipulate emotions, while true worship comes from the heart as a response to Who God is. When the church tries to manipulate emotions to produce an “experience”, it is only temporary and never soul-satisfying.

  4. Clark Feb 22, 2014 12:52 pm

    So God doesn’t want us to give our best efforts?? Jesus gave us his best, and he deserves no less than our best efforts. Not as a way to earn salvation but as an act of worship. Don’t we tell our children to “try your best?”

    On a different note, is there a mega church that you do like and support? Again, I’m no blind follower of anyone. But I do try to be fair in my analysis of any church.

    • James Duncan Feb 22, 2014 1:14 pm

      The problem with the word “best” is that it’s a superlative adjective that derives its meaning from other members in a defined group. We must ask, better than or best compared to what? Perry comparing Jesus’ church to Disney is as useful as saying that out of all the apples in the world, my puppy is the best. You can’t compare across two sets that have no significant similarities.

  5. Clark Feb 22, 2014 3:38 pm

    Mr Duncan, would you consider yourself more Calvinist or Armenian??

  6. Jason Feb 22, 2014 5:12 pm

    Mr. Duncan.

    I appreciate your blog and am learning about Christian leaders that I otherwise would never have heard about, especially since I am no longer a part of Charismatic/Pentecostalism.

    That being said, I would say that an “entertaining” lecture would be a talk a la Dr. Peter Williams. Williams is the headmaster of Tyndale House of Cambridge University and gave an amazing lecture at Lanier Theological library out of Texas. His talk regarding are the Gospels trustworthy can be found on Youtube.

    Honestly, when I heard Dr Williams talk and some of his other lectures (iTunes has them for free) it gladdened my heart that such young Christian scholars still exist. Listening to him speak, I realized that we don’t hear very many at the local popular level. He speaks in a clear concise way that is very easily understood. You come away educated as well as enlightened regarding the biblical gospels and their historicity and accuracy. There’s nothing boring about learning something new about the Bible that we didn’t know before.

    Of course, sadly, it takes a fairly educated person who well understands the Scriptures to impart that knowledge to the congregation. From reading your blog, Dr Duncan, I have to honestly say that I could not ever put Furtick or Noble on the same level as a person such as Dr. Peter Williams.

    Suffice it to say that if you put Peter Williams and Perry Noble in the same room (both men are roughly the same age) it becomes all too clear that the church has been following after not only a strange fire, but also uneducated bumpkins who wouldn’t understand basic hermeneutics if it jumped up and hit them in the arm.

    Dr. Williams is just one example given to make the point that that is along the lines of “putting on a great show”. Bottom line: If Christians would like to learn and become better educated regarding the bible as well as knowledgable regarding their faith, you couldn’t do better (among others) than such scholars as Peter.

    I appreciate your blog and pray the new year is going well.

  7. Doug Feb 23, 2014 11:08 am

    Recently my adult son was in Starbucks when he overheard the teaching pastor of the local SBC megachurch in northwest Tucson say the following. “I had a dream and our church was like Disneyland and the people were at the doors and the crowd was excited and could not wait to get in.” Is it possible God is speaking to SBC megachurch pastors thru dreams or other revelation about the church needing to be like Disneyland?)

  8. Clark Feb 23, 2014 11:43 am

    Count me in the group who wants church to be so engaging, relevant, exciting, energetic, and full if hope that people are busting down our doors to get in to hear the good news. The message cannot change. But the methods must change.

  9. Humblylearning Feb 23, 2014 12:38 pm

    It’s all the same grandiose selfish ambition that has absolutely nothing to do with the Apostles original design of the Biblical church which was a place to come together to worship God properly and have the Word preached. It shouldn’t matter how many people come, as long as the Word is being preached and God is being worshipped. These mega-church pastors who want to try to get even more people in their churches seem to quite frankly just be after more money. It’s funny how the ones that want more in their church are often the same people that fiercely advocate the Unbiblical concept of the “Christian tithe”. And those methods they’re going about this is simply more culture conforming and less Biblical teaching. It’s more self-help man-centered theology, and less authentic God centered theology. I seem to recall a scripture in Romans that says do not conform to this world.

  10. BravoBereans Feb 23, 2014 6:03 pm

    The True Gospel is an offense. If it’s being preached rightly, it will not have people beating the doors down (at least not in a good way). – 1 Cor 1:18 Absolutely, our message is infinitely more important, more eternal than Disney’s… but not to those who are perishing, and that’s a lot of people, says Matthew 7:14.
    If the Church does start drawing a crowd like Disney, it would be a good time to question what is actually being presented to make the masses come running. Seems wise to be asking those questions already- even with crowds as “measly” as the 10’s of thousands.

  11. Ella Feb 23, 2014 6:18 pm

    I listened to a podcast recently where a pastor with a soft unenthusiastic voice calmly addressed the attendants of his church. There was no music behind him, he didn’t have to scream into the mic to get cheers and claps from the crowd, everything was quiet except for his voice and perhaps a cough from the audience here or there. You had no choice but to focus on what he was saying, there was no other distractions.
    He had his Bible open. He preached from Matthew 19:16-30 about Jesus & the rich young ruler. He read the verses in context. He didn’t use it to add himself or the audience into the verses. He didn’t take a verse or two to focus on & dump the rest.
    This pastor taught this well know story in depth and in a way that pulled more treasures out of it for us to learn about the ruler’s motivations, Jesus’ responses to him, & the law.
    By the end of the sermon I was grieved and crying over my sin and how much I need the Savior. That I can’t save myself and neither can anyone else. I found myself crying out to God for forgiveness once again because the law applied its full weight upon me. The preacher then levitated the pressure by preaching the Gospel. I had hope for my hopelessness and my hope is Jesus.
    He didn’t need to use music or shouting or cheers & claps to get a response from me and others that listened to the sermon. His soothing calm voice that preached law & gospel to me had me on my face in a burst of despair over my sins and joyful bliss that Jesus died for my sins and I am forgiven.
    If the mega church pastors preached sermons like this instead of the empty & vain motivational speeches then they would have REAL conversions & REAL baptisms that wouldn’t have to be manipulated. There are souls at stake as they play amusement park with God’s church.

  12. JLC Feb 24, 2014 4:10 pm

    Can I just say, whoever you are writing all these articles and commentaries, as a young educated 24 year old, you rock. I thought I was the only person in Charlotte who felt this way! Preach on!

  13. Dotty Young Feb 25, 2014 4:34 pm

    Clark, the phrase “Shouldn’t we do our best for the Lord?” was on another comment thread I read recently: advocating strict dress codes and hair lengths and classical-music-only environments for teens and young adults. Wheb “Our best” becomes “the only acceptable way,” it becomes a sad idol. God’s best will liberate where our best falls short.

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