By Matt Sanders
I live in Central Florida. When some of you read that, a couple of thoughts may come to mind. Maybe you thought, “Must be nice to live in the land of sunshine and beaches.” That is true. But it’s not so great if you’re like me and don’t like to sweat or get sand all over you. Or, you may have thought, “It must be really, really nice to live near the most magical place on earth,” with which I would agree! My family and I love going to Disney and do so several times a month with our little ones in tow.
Living around theme parks like Walt Disney World is great, but it also makes doing ministry for middle and high school students all the more challenging. It’s hard enough to get students to pay attention in general, let alone keep their excitement and wonder when I am competing with the all the entertainment that the local theme parks provide.
In my many journeys I have noticed that Disney works very hard to communicate a message and story to each family. They don’t only get that across with their rides and attractions; they communicate their message in the details. They create awesome large-scale scenes—such as castles and mountains—but they also pay attention to the smallest of details. For example, they just renovated the queue line for “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” at Magic Kingdom. When you enter the line for the ride, children can start by walking through Pooh’s home, then they can crawl through Eeyore’s stick hut and can play games in Rabbit’s garden, amongst other things. By the time you exit the ride, you’ve been so surrounded by Winnie the Pooh that you bleed honey and Heffalumps. From the moment you enter the line, everything you see and touch helps communicate the story. So, the question for youth workers is what message does your room communicate to your students?
One of the reasons why I am such a huge fan of the Orange strategy and XP3 Students is that it has helped me see how room design can assist in communicating the message that I am trying to get across to my students. With some of their ideas, my team and I started dreaming up stage designs for the “Collide” series and, while we’d all love to have elaborate, Hollywood-style sets, we are limited by tight budgets. However, with a little creativity you can create environments that help broadcast the bottom line to your students.
For our design, we called Home Depot and asked if they had any wooden pallets that they wouldn’t mind donating to us. They had a slew of them and gave us 14 for free. I have found that there are many businesses and/or people who are willing to help in a similar manner. Fortunately for us, one of our church members owns a junkyard. I gave him a call and told him what we were trying to do. He gladly loaned us dented hoods, a bumper, a car door that appears to have been used for target practice, and other small items. Finally, we painted seven poster boards and cut out the letters spelling “Collide.” At the end of the day, we had an awesome set that cost almost nothing.
We live in a time when in order for students to pay attention and find wonder in anything, they need to be fully absorbed—they need to be engulfed in what is going on. All I’m saying is…if you want your students to grasp the bottom line, don’t overlook the small stuff.
Matt is the Student Pastor at Journey Christian Church in Apopka, FL. He has been on staff there since 2005. Matt is currently working on his Master’s Degree at Reformed Theological Seminary. Working out, playing/watching basketball, and going to Disney World are some of his favorite things to do. He is married to the always wonderful Amanda Sanders and they have two children together, a son named Landon (3 y/o) and a daughter named Chandler (1 y/o). Follow him on twitter (matthew_sanders) and facebook (mattysanders).