Sunday, May 27, 2007

Museums, Theme Parks, Church

My son has been fascinated by theme parks since he could first say the word, "Disneyland", and a year or so back he joined the Themed Entertainment Association, a very specialized group of design and architectural professionals who work on theme parks, malls, casinos and themed restaurants such as the Rainforest Cafe. With his membership comes the most fascinating magazine introducing this minister to worlds she had never imagined but which have some relevance to church work. It makes great breakfast table reading.

Today's opening article muses on what Themed Entertainment can learn from Museums. Museums, of course, have lately been learning a lot from the amusement industry, so here's the turn around. The gist of the answer to the question is that museums offer authentic experiences; real meteorites, live fish, and amazing but true tales about our world, our universe, our history, and ourselves. This author believes that truly attractive themed entertainments will have some of that authentic quality of "realness" to them, and not try to offer too much "story-ed" theming. I was reminded of the best amusement park ride I ever went on, at the Epcot Center. It was a simulation of a trip to Mars, and when, after all of the wild "G's" and and other "ride" stuff, I saw the earth rise in the little window of my "space ship", I felt a thrill as authentic as any I've known.

The author ends his article this way:

Why do people go to museums in the first place?....if you ask visitors why they came, the top answer isn't generally "to learn something," so purely educational motives don't explain the attraction. What does? I think the answer is at the core of what drives much of the human experience. It is the same reason some people read books, raise families, go to church..."meaningfulness". We'll go to the aquarium to feel a connection to the environment, the science center to ponder mysteries of the universe, the zoo to witness the truth of our evolutionary human ancestry. We go to quench a thirst, fill a void...Of course, many TEA members know this instinctively, and even at our most cynical moments on entertainment projects yearn wistfully for more. We call it heart.
There's a lesson here for church, especially for people responsible for worship. Why do people come to worship? It is not to learn something. (Repeat after me, please, every new minister and every member of a worship committee: It is not to learn something. ) It is to quench a thirst, fill a void, connect with mystery, experience meaningfulness, find heart. If the people who design Legoland and the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai (largest indoor ski mountain on earth) know this and think they can deliver on it, we who do church should be able to be instantly articulate and extremely skilled at it, too. But, we're not.

How do we church folk do any of this...and without animatronics and special effects budgets? Not to mention for the same clients, week after week? I think I have a knack for some of this, but I don't feel very articulate and I don't have a recipe. To some extent there is no universal recipe; what quenches the thirst of one person leaves another dehydrated. I know that energetic singing, real silence, beautiful music, and sermons that use new information and humor to entice people to open their hearts to a new place are some things which are likely to help some people fill a void, experience meaningfulness, and connect with mystery. I think that offering rituals is helpful to people. More and more often we are giving people a chance to do something towards the end of the service: today, Memorial Day Sunday, those who were remembering deceased loved ones were invited to come forward to light a candle, but we've done things with stones and for several years the church's Christmas Tree has been decorated only with white lights and paper doves on which members have written their prayers. Mostly, I am touched and humbled by the fact that even the designers of amusement parks know that it is "heart" and "thirst" and "meaningfulness" which bring real satisfaction to a human life.

1 comment:

Rick said...

Many churches are moving toward bringing an almost Disney environment into their children's churches. Good or bad it seems to be the wave of the future and I'm sure we'll witness those who do it well, those who don't and everyone in between. Lord help is all! :)