7 Secrets of Highly Successful Synagogues — and Churches

Applying Lessons of Megachurches to Jewish World

kurt hoffman

By Lenore Skenazy

Published February 11, 2014, issue of February 14, 2014.

(page 3 of 5)


Romemu, a Jewish Renewal synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, is 6 years old and has 500 member families. What’s its secret?

“Many shuls, people will come and join, find there’s no way to connect and disappear,” said Ilene Sameth, Romemu’s executive director. Her synagogue deliberately creates connections by inviting all new members to participate in a three-night orientation program.

Night 1: They go to someone’s home, have dinner, and talk about themselves and about community. Night 2: They are invited to the rabbi’s house for dinner, so they get to know him and his family — and vice versa. Night 3: They meet up at a Friday night service and have dinner afterward, with their coalescing cadre as well as with longer-term members and staff. “The point is to build smaller cohorts within a large and growing community,” Sameth said. “So instead of being faced with being a solo person or family in a large context, you begin to find groups.”

TAKEAWAY: Newcomers will stay if they feel like they’re part of the community.


As a human being, a Jew and a rather regular synagogue-goer, allow me to make this final plea: Don’t skimp on the food.

When there’s a nice Kiddush after services (or, at some synagogues, before!), not only does it bring in people, but it also gives them a chance to shmooze. Breaking bread builds community just as surely as dinner at home binds a family. With stomachs rumbling, congregants flee to more welcoming spreads.

Or at least I know one who does. But I suspect I am not alone.

TAKEAWAY: While we may be the people of the book, a little lox never hurt, either.

The 7 Secrets Of Highly Successful Churches


Old-school churches have the same issues as synagogues. “About 80%–85%of mainline Christian churches — Methodists, Lutherans and the like — have plateaued or are declining in attendance,” said Don Nations, founder of DNA Coaching, a company that consults with business executives as well as with church leaders.

The congregants still attending seem to be older and whiter than the communities around them, so when young people wander in, they feel out of place. That’s why today, while most churches are still small, the ones that are thriving aren’t. “The majority of Christians attend large churches,” Nations said.

The more mega the church, the more it has to offer: a diverse congregation, a lot of programs for kids, better bands, even better-educated clergy, Nations says. “I’m working with one church of 1,800 that’s grown by 100 or 200 a year for the past 10 years.” What’s it got going on? A rock service in a darkened room with a laser light show, for starters. Nations said that “it also offers awesome children’s services, a great band and a dynamic creative team.”

TAKEAWAY: It’s easier to attract young people if there are young people already there. And it’s easier to attract them with the kind of entertainment they like.

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