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.
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Architecture and interior design also play a role in bringing in new members. According to Richard Lovelace, a senior vice president at Stellar, an architectural firm that works on a lot of megachurches: “Very seldom do you see pews anymore. Now everybody has their own what I’ll call ‘butt space.’”

What’s more, rooms that can be used by different groups throughout the day surround the theaterlike sanctuary. “For instance, what we refer to as the ‘attic’ in our church is sort of a nightclub,” Lovelace said. “The high school kids use it for an hour, then they go down to services and the middle school swaps in, so there’s a shifting and a reuse of all the space.”

This allows the church to tailor its services — each about one hour — to different age groups. And the rest of their time at the church? It’s social. “In my own church we even have foosball tables,” Lovelace said.

TAKEAWAY: Make your house of worship a community center for kids, and the parents will join. Also: Keep the service short.


Everyone’s got a smartphone, but only some churches are smart about using them. So says David Mitroff, founder of Piedmont Avenue Consulting, a full-service marketing company in Oakland, Calif., that consults with businesses and congregations. “Some priests, what they’ll do is say: ‘Hey, everyone, pull out your phone. If you’re on Facebook or Twitter, I encourage you to tweet about what we’re talking about today.’” And suddenly, the congregation is doing your social marketing for you.

“Pictures and videos are huge, so what you also have to do is say: ‘Hey, everyone! Why don’t you take a picture of the food we put out?’” Mitroff said.

The clergy should also be posting, emphasizing the main attractions of the church. If the pastor does a lot of visiting the sick, for instance, he or she should tweet about end-of-life issues. This creates “brand awareness” (if you will) and also serves as a little advertising campaign for the church throughout the week. And if the message is clever or comforting, members can share it, further widening the church’s reach.

TAKEAWAY: A smartphone is your congregation’s friend, not its enemy. Obviously, this tactic won’t work for synagogues that ban electronics on Shabbat.


Mormons have more fun. That’s not necessarily the rap on them, but they really seem to have figured out something great: how to make sure everyone stays connected, in a very nice way.

That’s because each worshipper is assigned two people to visit once a month. “We’re not really grouped by age or interest, but we always find common ground, and a lot of it is just kind of helping each other with family things,” said Pamela Layton McMurtry, an artist, writer and parent of seven in Kaysville, Utah.

On these visits, she’ll bring a plate of cookies, or the two ladies might go out to lunch. Meantime, she’s got two women assigned to her! Recently they helped out with a graduation party. By making sure everyone gets visited on a regular basis, no one falls through the cracks. “That way there’s never anybody homeless, or without a meal. It’s a great safety web,” McMurty said. What’s more, “I read that you need contact once a month to retain relationships.” Keeping loneliness at bay is also a mitzvah — though that’s not the Mormon term.

TAKEAWAY: Regular, guaranteed visits knit a congregation closer together.

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