Steven Barr is the Vision Pastor for Cast Member Church, serving the 67,000+ community of Cast Members who work for The Walt Disney World Resort, in Orlando, FL. During this interview Steven gives us insight into the fascinating “niche-ministry” he’s launched to reach this community. This is a great interview for church leaders looking to be inspired to reach out to their community in fresh new ways. Steven provides a great framework of Church Leaders looking to contextualize the gospel in fascinating ways!
Interview Highlights //
00:56 // Rich introduces Steven Barr.
01:21 // Steven talks about The Disney Company and the employees.
03:05 // Steven talks about his first visit to Disney and thinking, “Wow wouldn’t it be cool if there was a church just for cast members?”
04:17 // Steven talks about how he started Cast Member Church.
06:44 // Steven talks about how he reaches out to cast members.
08:00 // Rich encourages all church leaders to check out castmemberchurch.com
08:45 // Steven talks about the success of Life Beyond Imagination.
11:11 // Steven gives examples of those his ministry is reaching.
12:30 // Steven talks about church leaders needing to know who they are to be able to reach into their community.
13:27 // Steven talks about The Disney mission field.
14:50 // Steven and Rich joke about living in close vicinity to attractions.
15:21 // Steven offers advice to anyone thinking of church planting.
16:12 // Steven shares his vision for the Cast Member Church.
Lightning Round Highlights
Helpful Tech Tools // Fuze
Ministries Following // Looks to Disney Cast Members for inspiration
Inspiring Leader // Sir Ken Robinson
What does he do for fun? // Playing and writing music and being at Disney
Interview Transcript //
Rich – Alright, well welcome, happy Thursday everybody, we just want to start off with that. Thanks so much for listening in to the unSeminary podcast. My name’s Rich, the host around these parts. Today we’ve got a fascinating interview, I’ve been looking forward to this. What if I was to tell you that there’s a group of people, actually 67 thousand people in this community, who don’t have, or up until this guest, who don’t have a kind of, active presence of Christ there, kind of a church, something reaching out to them. What if I was to tell you that that’s in America, in this country? Today’s guest is Steven Barr, I’m going to let you tell us what community that is, but Steven welcome to the show today.
Steven – Thanks Rich, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Rich – Nice, so Steven runs a ministry called Cast Member Church which reaches out, specifically to the cast members at Walt Disney World in Orlando Florida, the largest single site employer, just heard this today, the largest single site employer in the entire country. So Steven, I look forward to hearing more about this, what’s the idea behind Cast Member Church?
Steven – Well Cast Members, which is Walt Disney’s term for an employee, anyone who works for The Disney Company is a cast member because his attitude is that they have a role to play. It’s a show and no matter what your job is, you have a role to make the show happen.
So anyway, you see where Disney draws the mostly talented, we call them dreamers and doers and this is a place where, not just Walt Disney World but Disney Land in the parts around the world but these are magnets for creative people and they’re like talent incubators. These young people come out of college, they come to work for Disney to develop their skills and not just entertainment but business and things like that, but it’s an incubator, it’s a magnet.
Rich – Right, absolutely.
Steven – So we felt what a great opportunity to be able to bring Christ into that formation process. As they’re developing their talents and abilities, if Jesus can become a part of that process as well, imagine the potential they have when they move on beyond Disney.
Rich – Very cool. I know at our church we have, there’s like a cadre of… they would be 20 something, early 30 something, who have been through the college program at Disney World and it’s true, there is a unique quality of those individuals. When you kind of take them as a whole, they’re like talented, creative, people that are making a difference in all kinds of different industries now. So I think it’s such a unique idea what you’re doing here.
So let’s take a step back, give us a bit of the history. How did you get started, why do this, it’s such an interesting ministry?
Steven – That’s a great question. I’ve always loved Disney. Most people who have ever been to the parks, I mean that first time they remember going to Disney, it’s a magical experience. But for me that experience stayed with me, all the way growing up and in 1991, I believe it was, I was a cast member for a while and I remember looking around and going, “Wow, it’s a shame there isn’t a church to minister,” because all of these cast members have crazy schedules. I mean you cannot put something together that would be normal or predictable. But I remember thinking, “Wow, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a church just for cast members,” and I forgot about that, I really did. It was one of those things where, you know many, many years later it came back to, I don’t want to say haunt me, but it certainly came back to get me.
Rich – Very cool, well has anybody tried this before and when you say church, like what is this? Do you do services at the foot of Cinderella’s Castle on Sunday mornings, how are you doing Cast Member Church?
Steven – Wouldn’t that be fun. Well we are a church in the, we like to call it, in the biblical sense. When I started Cast Member Church, I came to Orlando and the first thing I did was to try to connect with other pastors. I started hearing the horror stories of churches that had tried and failed to reach Disney.
Rich – Right, yeah.
Steven – It’s a very… it’s show business.
Rich – Right.
Steven – So it’s like putting a church in Hollywood. Churches have tried and failed and so I started asking myself, “Well why, why have they failed because I know God would want something here?”
Rich – Right.
Steven – I had to admit that I came with this model in my mind of how it was going to work and how awesome it was going to be. I believe it was about two weeks into it where God took that plan and said, “No, no, not going to do that one.”
Rich – Oh yeah, definitely.
Steven – I almost had, not a crisis, but I really had a moment of truth where I really had to ask the Lord, “What do you want to do?” Not what are my plans, “What do you want to do?” and hearing all these stories about churches trying and failing and here’s a novel thought, I went back to scripture. I decided, how did it work, how did it work? The book of Acts became my best friend for weeks and I just kept looking at this dynamic church and somewhere in that wrestling, I heard a quote by somebody I’m very fond of, Mike Breen and he made this comment about, ‘if you plant churches you might get disciples but if you make disciples you always get the church’.
Rich – So true.
Steven – I thought, that’s it, that’s it, we’ve been doing it backwards. So instead of planting a church at Disney, let’s just focus on making disciples and if we make disciples, God will take care of the church.
Rich – Very cool.
Steven – That’s exactly what’s happened.
Rich – Very cool, now that’s I think a great idea, a great thought. How instead of looking at… I’m assuming some of the ways that other churches failed, I’m assuming they were trying to import maybe other models, things that they had been doing in the past and that just doesn’t work. I hadn’t even really thought of this until we were going to interview, but it’s going 24 hours a day, at Disney World there’s constant activity there 365 days a year. So the idea of appointment based, we’re going to run a service or run some sort of deal, that may not work for you. So what does the ministry actually look like, how are you reaching out to cast members?
Steven – Well the first thing I did is I started gathering a group of people that, kind of like my first group of disciples, the people that I’m going to invest in. Then these people in turn will lead their own groups. We’ve become a network that has, we call them the group’s Communi-Ds.
Rich – Nice.
Steven – D stands for Disney until they don’t like that, we’ll call it D for discipleship.
Rich – Yes.
Steven – But anyway we have these groups that meet all over Disney property, at different days, at different times and a cast member can choose a group that works for their schedule. If we try and do one service, we’ll draw maybe a hundred people and that’s it, because it’s just crazy, but if we put the emphasis on the discipling groups, not only do they have their own family but this is a place where an unbeliever can actually sit in a group of people and say, “I don’t get that,” or “You know, I’m not sure I believe that.”
Rich – Interesting.
Steven – That’s okay because it’s a family and so they’re drawn to the family element but within that family element, discipling begins to take place. So we have this network that meets at different times and different days.
Rich – Very cool. One of the things I love… we’ll make sure, I want everybody who’s listening to check out your website which is castmemberchurch.com and one the things I love about what you’re doing that I want church leaders to lean into, don’t write this off is, I think you’ve done an incredible job of contextualizing your ministry, you just kind of threw it out there; ‘Communi-Ds’. It’s a small thing right, it’s nodding to the culture you’re in, but I just think that’s powerful, what a powerful idea and just from what I see online, it’s through everything you do, you’re trying to find how to connect with these groups, with the people who are actually there.
Now what kind of, for the lack of a better word, curriculum, what are you actually talking about in those groups? There’s probably a better word than that, but what’s that actually look like?
Steven – Every time we launch a new group we start with something called Life Beyond Imagination. It’s a curriculum, I think that’s probably the best word, it’s a curriculum that I developed for cast members. What it does is we found out that, when you talk to cast member about Jesus, well let me back up. If I tell them I’m a pastor, they’re gone.
Rich – Right, right, right, right.
Steven – The conversation shuts down and the idea of talking about Jesus and even trying to get a conversation going is extremely difficult at least in our culture.
Rich – Right.
Steven – But in my conversations with cast member, I mean hundreds of cast members, I realized that none of them are afraid to talk about purpose.
Rich – Very cool.
Steven – I thought, okay that’s huge because this is the core of who we are, we exist because God has given each one of us a purpose, a reason to glorify him. So I thought, what if I worked through a scriptural model on how to help a person find their purpose and in that process we introduce Christ, we introduce this idea of, you have a purpose but you’re separated from the one who gave you that purpose.
So we called it Life Beyond Imagination, which hence the Disney kind of vocabulary, but we also use what we call Disney speak, another word for vocabulary. We use words like, ‘story’, ‘dream’, ‘quest’, ‘mark’ and these words that float around Disney all the time, but the idea is every week, they’re working through this process of, “Why am I here? Who am I? Where am I going and why does all of this matter?” What’s wonderful about it is we’ve had an amazing conversion rate as a result.
Rich – Very cool.
Steven – It’s kind of surprised all of us but it’s been very successful. Then at the same time we’ve created a common vocabulary, a common set of values. The idea is that every person that goes through this, they’re able to tell their own story, they’re able to share, whether they’ve come to Christ yet or not, they know how to tell their story and that’s so crucial.
Rich – Very cool.
Steven – That’s so crucial here.
Rich – Well I wonder if you can tell us, give us maybe an insight into an individual, the kind of person that your ministry is reaching, give us a sense of their profile and how has it impacted them?
Steven – We use the term, ‘Dreamer and Doer’ and the idea is it’s someone who goes, “I know I have something to offer, I just don’t know what it is or how to do it.” These are usually artistic people and I don’t mean artistic like painters these are just creative…
Rich – Yeah creative folks.
Steven – They are usually just out of college, though Disney employs all ages, but we seem to draw those that want to make a difference in the world and so we’re able to say, “Hey you know what, we know that God wants you to make a difference too.” So that seems to be the connection right there. We have a lot of entertainers, we have people that work in merchandize, we have people that work in food and beverage, there’s really not one particular slice of the population, except to say that we are reaching the younger element obviously.
Rich – Right very cool. Now what would you say to a church leader who’s listening in today and thinking, “Okay that’s interesting, I’m not in Orlando, but there’s maybe a…” They look at this and say there’s a college campus close by or maybe another large employer like Disney or another kind of identifiable subculture that does feel outside of them but they’d like to reach into them? What are some of those lessons or a few things that they should be thinking about, if they want to try to reach into that community?
Steven – Well I would say first of all, ask the question, who do you love, who is it that you love, that you connect with? People seem to connect with you. I’m a dreamer and doer and so Disney just happens to be the place where those people come but you put me in any city, I’m going to be drawn to those people who are catalysts and innovators.
So the question would be, who do I connect with, who has God created me to connect with? So you have to know who you are.
Rich – Rich.
Steven – Then you start thinking about, well where do those people gather? And you’re going to find out if there’s a mission field out there that’s designed just for you.
Rich – Very cool, well this is fascinating. Now do you actually get a chance to be in the park, is that a part of what you do? Have you figured out the ultimate job? Like, “I’m ministering today, I’ve got to go and ride Space Mountain.”
Steven – You know the truth is yes, I do. I’m in the park so much, it’s never gotten old. I’m not there riding the rides all the time, although if my kids come with me, chances are we’re going to end up on something.
Rich – Yeah.
Steven – But you know it’s fun. I have the coolest mission field in the world because where else can you go, where people are paid to talk to you. So I go in as a guest, I don’t receive any special treatment from Disney, we’re not endorsed by Disney or anything, but I go in with an annual pass and so I’m treated as a guest. So I look for cast members that are, you know you can just tell – I’d love to talk to somebody – so I’ll go up and just start a conversation with them.
It’s been fun taking friends of mine into Disney as well and showing them what I do and they start to see the mission field as well. So I’m there a lot, I try to balance, not just the parks but the hotels. Most of our communities meet in hotels.
Rich – Okay.
Steven – So we don’t meet in homes, we meet actually on [unclear 00:14:31] and I live about three minutes from Cinderella’s Castle, so …
Rich – Oh gosh. Wow my kids, if they can hear this thing, this will be very bad. They’ll be like, “Dad you’ve got the wrong ministry, why are you not in Florida?”
Steven – I will tell you this though, I think my kids are the only ones you’ll ever hear, “Seriously dad, do we have to go to Disney today?”
Rich – I can imagine that, I can imagine that. Well it’s funny because we’re similar, we’re like 45 minutes from Manhattan New York City and it’s the same thing right? Like I love going into Manhattan when guests come and my wife and kids are like, “No it’s fine, you take them, we’re staying here, I don’t really want to see Time Square one more time.” So I can identify with that.
Well it’s fantastic, anything else you’d love to share with our listeners before we jump into the lightning round?
Steven – Yeah just simply the fact that Disney sounds incredible, it sounds like it makes sense what we’re doing but the truth is, it took a lot of hard work to figure out how to make this work. I want to encourage anyone, if you’re really feeling called into church planting or some of what we’re doing, don’t be afraid to do the hard work because it’s worth it. God wants to do a new work through you, don’t necessarily look at models, you can learn from models, but don’t be afraid to step into something innovative because I really believe that’s how God grows the church.
Rich – Actually you’re thinking about expanding or you’re in the process of expanding to other locations, tell us about that?
Steven – Our vision is to have a Cast Member Church at every Disney location around the world.
Rich – Wow.
Steven – So that means, Anaheim, Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Rich – Right.
Steven – We are now getting ready, this month, this is exciting, I’m flying out to LA to have the first meeting, forming a leadership team for Disney Land Anaheim.
Rich – Very cool, well that’s neat, what a cool vision and again you’ll have a really tough job the day you have to fly to all those parks, one after another. Well great for you Steven, that’s a tough ministry you know? I’m just kidding, I’m just kidding obviously.
Steven – Thanks.