9 Things Amusement Parks Teach Us About Outreach

“If people are standing in line to give you money, you must be doing something right.” —My dad

Every year, 300,000,000 Americans will visit amusement parks. That’s a staggering number of people waiting in line! As church leaders, we can’t ignore this massive cultural phenomenon and the lessons we can draw for our churches.

Here are some lessons that jump out to me when I think about amusement parks and the local church:

1. Guests need good signage. Most of the people that come to amusement parks come once in a while, so they require great signage to point them in the right direction. We have the same issue in churches. Think about the level of signage that you’d be comfortable with and double it. It disappears to your people after two to three weeks, but your first time guests appreciate it.

2. Helping families win is a winning strategy. Amusement parks obsess about creating experiences that appeal to various members of the family: toddlers and moms looking for safe stuff, “intro roller-coasters” to ease the tweens into thrills, and the epic rides to push the limits for teens (and dads who think they are teens). How is your church providing the entire family a chance to engage?

3. Always something new. Let’s be honest: Amusement parks stay mostly the same for year after year because they invest huge capital in rides that take a long time to pay off. However, every year they advertise the “latest and greatest” to get people to come back and give it a try again. How are we communicating what is “new” at our church to encourage people to come back and try us again?

4. People are looking for an escape. Hundreds of millions of people want a break from their “normal lives” and want to be transported to somewhere magical. How does that reality impact us when we minister to them in their “normal lives”?

5. Parking is important. Watch how amusement parks deal with parking and do likewise. It’s awe-inspiring how smooth they make that process.

6. There needs to be stuff people haven’t done. It’s fascinating to watch the internal dynamics with people as they take on the “next ride challenge.” It gives them motivation to keep coming back and try more. More important than having things people can do is having stuff people haven’t done. How can we provide leadership experiences for our people who have served in every role? Do we need to provide more challenging and varied spiritual development experiences to help people grow?

7. Teens are important. One way to look at amusement parks is as massive youth drop-in centers. A perfect environment designed to provide teens “freedom” to do what they want, but enough “control and structure” to keep them focused on spending money. It’s a cornerstone market for amusement parks. When was the last time your senior leadership team talked about what’s happening in your student ministry? It’s a critically important part of the life of your church. Talk about them and structure ministry for them.

8. People have financial resources. Nine dollar soda? Sure! Twelve dollar burger? Give me two! The church needs to be the best-funded organization on the planet. The resources are out there. 

9. You need more leaders. Amusement parks are crawling with people serving the public. Everywhere you look, there are team members working to make it a great experience for their guests. We need more volunteers to serve our guests and to provide a high level of experience for them. It takes more people than we think.  

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Rich Birch
Rich serves as Operations Pastor at Liquid Church in the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. He blogs at UnSeminary.com and is a sought after speaker and consultant on multisite, pastoral productivity and communications.