Aware of my fascination with Walt Disney mythology, my wife presented me with three DVDs that chronicle events that have been significant in the company’s history: Waking Sleeping Beauty, The Sherman Brothers’ Story, and Walt & El Grupo.

Over the holidays I was able to watch Waking Sleeping Beauty, a documentary that tells the story of how Disney’s animation studio rose the brink of collapse—can you imagine the Disney animation studio going out of business?— to go on an unprecedented run that began with Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and continued with The Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast, The Lion King, and Aladdin.

The general situation and overall economic forecast for the Walt Disney Animation Studio in the early-to-mid 1980s was bleak. A string of box-office and critical failures combined with stiffer competition had culminated when the story begins. After bringing in Michael Eisner the next step was finding the right person to lead the animation studio out of the pits and into a new era of prosperity. That person was Jeffrey Katzenberg. Early in the movie Katzenberg makes this statement: “You’ve got 90 days to change culture before it starts changing  you.” So Katzenberg, Eisner, and a few other key figures took the reins and charged out into the vast and unpredictable future with the not-so-small goal of re-directing the course of one of the most storied companies in American business and popular culture history.

Because it’s January and many of you are beginning new groups or starting campaigns or even looking at beginning a small-group ministry in your church, I thought it would be a good time to reiterate the broad strokes of culture and organizational change that Waking Sleeping Beauty brings to light.

Sense of Urgency – A friend of mine used to say, “It always takes longer than it does.” I have no idea what that means, but somehow it makes sense in that we must be intentional and persistent. That is, nothing manages to “just get get done.” At least in the early stages, a leader must stay on top of the details and be sure that the process remains in motion. There’s a line in the movie Elizabethtown that I love: “All forward motion is progress.” Something to keep in mind when things aren’t moving as fast as you’d like.

Cast the Vision – Included in this aspect of culture change is building consensus. In order to cast the vision you, of course, need a vision. This is accomplished through prayer and careful, diligent planning. Invite a couple of people along for the journey. Remember that change begins and infects from from the center, but also from the edges. So work from the center, casting the vision from within the inner circle. But also be strategic in working from the periphery back to the middle. There’s a multiplying effect in using this strategy.

Permeate – To change a culture the vision must run throughout the community and permeate the DNA of the organization. “Of course,” you say, “but that’s easier said than done.” I won’t dispute that. A mentor of mine put it best on the subject: “You know the message is beginning to stick when it becomes a punch line at the water cooler, in the hallways, and during meetings.” I realize that the last thing anyone wants is to be a punch line, but the point is to have the new message so top-of-mind that it becomes like “It’s a Small World”—a message with a peculiar yet endearing staying power. Take every opportunity to drill a slogan, message, key word, or visual image deeper into the cultural ethos.

Push – According to Waking Sleeping Beauty, the studio had grown soft. They were a bunch of kids with a lot of talent but lacking a force—or motivation—sufficient enough to forge them into a cohesive team with a sense of purpose. The leadership team that came in included Eisner, Katzenberg, and John Lasseter. They combined with the already-present Roy E. Disney (imagine that) and Frank Wells. Where this team was putting out only a handful of films, most of them bad, every few years, the new leadership instituted a production pipeline of one animated feature per year—a demanding schedule. Changing culture means … wait for it … change. It means pushing people. What athlete doesn’t appreciate the coach that makes him the best he can be? What teachers do you tend to admire most? The truth is we like to see what we’re made of. Change leaders can’t shy away from expectation.

Inertia – It has always fun to watch how an event can take on a life on its own when I’ve been responsible for the planning, executing, and managing events. There’s so much going on in the days and weeks and even hours right before an event begins, but once it does it is almost like it becomes greater than the sum of its parts. The same thing is going to happen when you implement new groups or a new small-group ministry. At this point you’ll want to pay very close attention to the nuances of what is happening.

I don’t know if Katzenberg is accurate with his 90-day mandate, but at some point a leader endeavoring to change culture will be, as my grandmother would often say, “swallowed whole.” For sure this is an incomplete list. There are entire books on the subject. I would recommend the Waking Sleeping Beauty documentary for any leader, though. Not only is it entertaining, but there are some great lessons for changing culture. Being a change agent or change-leader certainly not for the feint of heart—but it always makes for a good story.

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“That little bit of sadness in the mornings you spoke of? I think I know what that is. Perhaps you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”
the movie Unbreakable (2000)

Unbreakable gets lost in the recent spike in superhero movies: Spiderman, Batman, Ironman, Hancock, The Fantastic Four, Superman—even Laura Croft. Admittedly, part of the problem is that Unbreakable was released more than 8 years ago and was the follow-up to writer/director M. Night Shyamalan’s wildly acclaimed The Sixth Sense. If you haven’t seen Unbreakable, the movie focuses on David Dunn–a man who has never been sick, never been hurt, the only survivor of a horrific train wreck, and who can bench press a ton of weight. Even though all the signs are there, he never, not once, stops to wonder if he has been created to be more than a security guard. Instead, like the man by the pool at Bethesda, he is content to greet each day the same, allowing today to flow seamlessly and effortless into tomorrow (John 5:4ff). See, David Dunn is a superhero cut from the same cloth as the ones mentioned above, yet he has never donned a cape, attempted a rescue, searched his heart, been touched with passion, or even tried to fly.

Have you stopped to wonder why these superhero movies are so successful? Really, the plot lines are fairly consistent, yet the lines at the box office aren’t getting any shorter. It could be that we sense a greater calling on our own lives; that we’re all struggling to find the superhero dwelling within and we allow ourselves—maybe even prefer—to be satisfied watching superhero-ness played out on the screen. Scripture can support this reaction to that “little bit of sadness”.

  • You are seated with Christ in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 2:6)
  • You are God’s “work of art,” created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10)
  • You’ve been given the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16)
  • Christ Himself is in you (Colossians 1:27)
  • You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14)

The truth is, yes, we are more than tainted by the fall and Original Sin. We cannot begin to fathom what was lost, but neither can we begin to fathom what we have to re-gain. And maybe the taint resulting from the events of Genesis 3 and the stain of sin—as true as this is—do not represent what is truest about us.

Zephaniah 3:17 tells us that God delights in us with shouts of joy. When we talk about redemptive community, we’re advocating a community that works together to demolish the enemy’s strongholds in the lives of group members. We’re advocating a community working together to help each member find the superhero inside. True, honest, and authentic redemptive community creates an environment in which the Holy Spirit can work in making us become more than what we are.

To gain early buy-in from potential group members you need to give them some understanding of the following things. Small-group consultant Rick Howerton calls these, “The Top Ten Questions of Small Group Members.” These are questions that may not necessarily be asked, but are definitely playing on the minds of most persons on the other side of the invitation:
1. How much of my time is this going to take?
2. What are we going to do with our children during meetings?
3. Will there be homework? If so, how much?
4. Am I going to have to talk or can I just sit and listen during meetings?
5. Will I have to pray out loud?
6. Who else is going to be in the group?
7. How much do I have to know about the Bible?
8. How many weeks or months is this group going to last?
9. If I don’t like it can I leave without anyone being angry with me?
10. What are we going to be doing during meetings?

Consider your answers to these questions as you build your small-group ministries. It’s a good practice to answer, as much as possible, as you describe small-group life and articulate the small-group vision.