In a recent post I talked about the concept of “forced experience”…thinking through what you want your guests to see and where you want them to go. While your church should be open to anyone, there are many areas of your church that shouldn’t be seen by everyone. Storage rooms, custodial closets, choir practice rooms, volunteer headquarters…those all have a purpose, but they shouldn’t be on display to the general public.
Disney illustrates this concept of forced experience for us. Think about the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Magic Kingdom. Pirates is a boat ride, with scenes surrounding you on all sides. As the boat meanders from scene to scene, you have the opportunity to look ahead or behind you, to your left or your right, and everything you see is there for you to take in. While you’re certainly in a boat on a fixed path, you have a lot of control over what you see, hear, and experience.
Now get off the boat and head over to Haunted Mansion. When you board the ride vehicle, it’s no longer an open-air boat but a “Doom Buggy,” a variation on Disney’s Omnimover system. In an Omnimover, you are on a specific track moving at a specific speed maintaining a specific distance from other ride vehicles. And all along the track your line of sight is shifting as the “clamshell” style vehicle turns and pivots. Because of the shape of the vehicle, you can’t look left or right, but only straight ahead. In other words: you see exactly what the Imagineers want you to see. They want you to see the scenes they’ve created. They do not want you to see the lighting systems, special effects magic, or other “backstage” secrets that lurk around and behind your ride vehicle.
What on earth do Pirates boats and Omnimovers have to do with church guests? (I’m so glad you asked!) You really can control the guest experience, and you should, for the sake of your first time guests. While “control” may sound harsh, we are in reality thinking through what our guests need and delivering it to them step by step. Your guests don’t need to know where you keep the brooms, but they do need to know which door to enter. Create a path via signage and volunteers that gets them to the parking lot in front of the main entrance. Guests don’t need to know where the office kitchen is, but they do need to know where to drop off their kids. Create a path that leads them to a warm and welcoming lobby that excites their kids and gives a parental sense of security.
This weekend, I’d encourage you to take a walk around your campus from the perspective of first timer. Are you sending people on an open-air boat ride, or an Omnimover? And have you crafted your environments so that guests are actually seeing what you want them to see?