Religion & Beliefs

What Rick Warren Is Teaching to Rabbis

People often ask me what synagogues can learn from churches. There are obviously many things and, indeed, several books have been written on this topic. One that comes immediately to mind is The Spirituality Of Welcoming: How to Transform Your … Read More

By / December 5, 2008

People often ask me what synagogues can learn from churches. There are obviously many things and, indeed, several books have been written on this topic. One that comes immediately to mind is The Spirituality Of Welcoming: How to Transform Your Congregation into a Sacred Community, by Ron Wolfson.

Ron works with a fascinating organization called Synagogue 3000, which has a singular mission: to revitalize synagogue life in America. Its efforts cross over into many categories, everything from more inspiring prayer services to ways to attract new congregants. What’s more, one of the ways it seeks to learn how to better a synagogue is by looking to churches to see what techniques can be brought back to the Jewish world. For example, a couple of years ago it invited megapastor Rick Warren to give a workshop to a group of rabbis on how they can do better outreach at their synagogues. They videotaped that seminar and you can watch those clips online. And as it turns out, the organization had serendipitously picked Atlanta (where I live) as the one city where it will focus its efforts this year, holding monthly seminars and workshops with the city’s more than forty synagogues. "Jews need to be more quote-unquote evangelical," Wolfson told me. "We need to do a better job of presenting Judaism to our own people. The story doesn’t get across that Judaism is a way to ?nd meaning and purpose in your life. And that’s another lesson I’ve learned from the evangelical model." I met up with Wolfson for coffee to talk shop about my church visits, and he later invited me to the workshops as an honorary member. One event featured Bernie Marcus, the cofounder of the Home Depot, as the guest speaker. He was the last person I expected to be teaching me about the beauty of synagogue attendance. But there I was. And there he was. Teaching me about the beauty of synagogue attendance. Marcus was telling a group of about forty rabbis that attracting members to a synagogue was no different than attracting customers to a Home Depot. "You’re not giving  people the product they want. It’s no different than retail; it’s the same thing," he said. "You’re in the marketing business; you’re selling a product. You’re selling religion. It happens to be something that’s good for people. But you can’t get to them to sell them the religion because you’re in the marketing business and you don’t realize you’re in the marketing business. You have to stop thinking in many respects like a scholar and start thinking like a retailer."

Benyamin Cohen, author of My Jesus Year, spent the past week guest blogging on Jewcy. This is his parting post.  Want more?  Buy his book!