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 5 of 5)


“We won’t use it Sunday if you can’t use it Monday.” Consultant Nations says that’s the promise the most popular pastors make. Their sermons provide real-world solutions for everyday problems.

Places like the Westside Community Church, in Oregon, go a step further and hand out “action cards” — cards preprinted with an action relevant to that day’s sermon: “I will encourage people with my words,” “I will apologize to a family member” — whatever. Worshippers can check off the box that says “Yes, I’m going to take this next step.”

There’s also space on the card for issues they’d like the pastor to address, or to add the name of a person for whom they’d like prayers said.

Filling out the cards makes it more likely not only that worshippers will try to do the right thing, but also that they’ll come back next week to hear their questions answered or their loved ones blessed.

TAKEAWAY: People want practical guidance and comfort, not just “Bible study.”


Last fall, Christ Universal Temple, in Chicago, gave out free backpacks and school supplies to anyone stopping by. “We had over 4,000 children,” said Aisha Murff spokeswoman for the church. Christ Universal asked for only one thing in return: email addresses.

The bigger your email list, the bigger the chance you’ll have a crowd at your congregation. So throughout the year, Christ Universal does other community-oriented, get-their-emails events, like a Stop the Violence program, or a toiletry drive for shut-ins.

Piedmont Avenue’s Mitroff is also big on email, and stresses that the subject line should never be something lame, like “January Newsletter.” Instead, he suggests writing something like “You’re invited!” or “Here’s Your Free Ticket” — at least they would have some hope of getting opened. But even if they’re not, just seeing regular emails in their inbox helps make congregants feel connected.

TAKEAWAY: Send emails often, and make them intriguing.


Organize a beach cleanup. Have a day devoted to filling care packages to send overseas. Make 1,000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the hungry. These events are not just good for the world, they’re good for bringing in young people.

“People under 35 tend to be much more hands-on,” Nations said, so hosting volunteer events is a “key strategy.” What’s more, the young people who already do belong to your congregation find it easier to invite their friends to a day of service than to a church service, period.

TAKEAWAY: To get people through the door, hands-on projects beat preaching.

Lenore Skenazy is a keynote speaker and the author of the book and the blog “Free-Range Kids.”

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