November 24, 2016—Soon after moving to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, we were dining in a nicer-than-usual (for us, anyway) restaurant. At the end of the meal, our server came by and asked “Would you like a cookie?” I immediately thought, “Well, duh. Of course I want a cookie.” I hesitated, however, not sure if there was some sort of catch. Our companions, long-time locals, said “It’s a lagniappe.” (pronounced “lan yap”) as if that explained everything.
“It’s a what now?” I asked.
“A lagniappe. Something extra.” I just sat there, still not understanding. Finally, they just said “It’s a New Orleans thing.” I shrugged and took the cookie. I may be slow but I’m not stupid.
Lagniappe is one of those creole words that crept into the New Orleans lifestyle by way of South America hundreds of years ago. Mark Twain referred to it as “a word worth travelling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word.” Literally, it translates as something like a bonus or something extra. It’s usually a small token given at the end of an event or transaction – just a small gesture to add something special.
In planning for our second Disney World event focused on what churches can learn about hospitality and creativity, I keep thinking that during our experiences last year, there was a constant undercurrent of the lagniappe sentiment to everything we experienced. Everything we learned about Walt Disney, his passion, his vision, and his extremely high expectations for everyone who worked for him, had an undercurrent of “How can we make this just a little be better?” He pushed every idea and every experience to have just a little bit extra to make it special. Long after his death, that philosophy is still engrained in the core philosophy of Disney World.
Jeff Kober describes that in his blog post about Disney guest services, Exceed Expectations–By Just a Little. He writes “For kids everywhere, Mickey shaped food products can be found in all of the parks worldwide. The same thing can be found in hidden–and not so hidden–Mickeys that are popular throughout all of the parks. These little touches don’t cost much more to do, and yet they seem to be the thing people most remember.”
If you have ever gone on a cruise you have probably experienced something like this – every evening you return to your room to find your new towels shaped into fun animals and set prominently on display. It takes little extra effort on the part of the staff to create such a thing, it costs absolutely nothing, but it makes for a memorable addition to your overall experience. Your entire impression of the trip is made more positive by a very small effort.
What are the lagniappe opportunities that we overlook in our churches? What are the ways in which we could add just a little something extra to the ways we interact with those we encounter? Those small additions could cost us little, but could make all the difference for someone who comes to us looking to encounter the presence of Christ.
Jay Lynn is a pastor on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and was a 2015 Thompson Scholar participant at the Center for Lifelong Learning. He directs immersive learning experiences for ministry leaders through Learn By Going. Join him on his next event, Hospitality and Creativity at Walt Disney World in January 2017.