Do Synagogue Movements (Except for Chabad) Know What They Really Sell?

Posted on: April 24th, 2013 by Hayim Herring


My friend and colleague, Dr. Jim Schreier, sent me a link to an article called, “The Only Thing Apple Really Sells,” that inspired the content of this post. The gist of the article is that Apple does not sell hardware, software or cloud-based solutions. Rather, Apple sells an ecosystem. Their products and services are, “one-way tickets to platform archipelagos, to fiercely guarded fiefdoms where everything works in harmony within walls that are high and strong. And the longer you’re inside, the harder it is to leave.” The author of the article goes on to say, “That’s (an ecosystem) the endgame. An ecosystem so interconnected, entwined so tightly, that you can’t leave even if you wanted to. It’s not hardware, or software. It’s a family of products, apps, services, and accessories with the gravitational pull of a black hole. And Apple, today, simply does it better than anybody else.”


Do denominational synagogue lay and professional leaders understand that they are really selling a Jewish ecosystem? Or, do they fall into the understandable default position of selling “membership” (a product). What’s the difference between the two approaches? Thinking of a denominational congregation as a part of an ecosystem means that camps, youth groups, regional and national learning opportunities, ritual and prayer, and national and international social networks are all a part of the benefits of membership. Thinking of a congregation as an ecosystem would mean that there would be greater intentionality on the part of congregational leaders to connect with people and help people connect with one another at all stages and ages, locally, nationally and internationally. Leaders would think more often about how to make congregations an indispensible part of people’s lives-by collaborating internally and with other partners in the local Jewish community.


Focusing on maintaining and acquiring new members suggests a much narrower message, namely that someone is joining an organization that they can easily “ unjoin.” A membership mentality often conveys the unintended meaning that we know that you are using the synagogue for a particular service at a particular point in time. In this mindset, the larger web of opportunities is not revealed to the member of potential member.


I know that the analogy is not perfect, but it is instructive. Thinking of the congregation as an ecosystem helps to focus leaderships’ attention on the holistic needs of individuala as they grow. Chabad seems to have figured this out, (although it’s not entirely clear to me why they are more successful than other denominational movements). But in order to present your congregation as an ecosystem, you have to be one. There has to be a conscious, integrated effort to get all of the departments of the congregation to stop acting like compartments. And denominational headquarters and local synagogues have to offer seamless paths of engagement.


Let me know what you think. Does conceptualizing your congregation as an ecosystem stimulate any new potential ways to reach and involve people more deeply and more often?


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