THE BLOG
03/17/2014 04:01 pm ET Updated Dec 27, 2016

7 Things Houses of Worship Can Learn From Tech Companies

New York Times columnist, March 16:

The common denominator is individualism, not left-wing politics: it explains both the personal optimism and the social mistrust, the passion about causes like gay marriage and the declining interest in collective-action crusades like environmentalism, even the fact that religious affiliation has declined but personal belief is still widespread.

Times of Israel blogger, March 17:

We have the opportunity to create a synthesis between technology and our heritage that could draw people together for social, educational, and communal events - all we need now is the drive to make it happen.

Over the past few years, I've carried an informal dialogue with a handful of rabbis in their 30s and 40s about how they and their fellow clergy members can better reach the Millennial generation. Evidence shows that, unlike those before them, young people are leaving religion behind in large numbers.

Thanks to my series of correspondence with these leaders, I'm optimistic about the future. I won't profess to have any level of expertise or understanding about what makes for a good clergy member, volunteer executive, or committee chair. Yet, I do believe that every leader should be asking how he or she can be doing his or her job more effectively and more efficiently.

Technology companies are at the forefront of this type of innovation and often find way to rethink the status quo. I'd like to draw a parallel for how churches, mosques, synagogues and other houses of worship can operate to better appeal to younger constituents. Here are seven ideas they can apply from the emerging tech sector:

1. Build something you believe in. The people at the top, most notably the person in charge, is the best marketer you'll ever dream of having at your disposal. If people love you and the service you offer to the community, they will keep coming back for more. The congregation will feed off of the energy they see on stage.

2. Hire the right people to run the show. Start talking about "culture" and get your employees and volunteers to buy into it. Recruit the people you want to be the face of your organization and make them stakeholders. The way someone answers the phone or greets you at the door impacts how people will perceive you and your community.

3. Try everything. Be willing to fail. The number-one slogan in tech is "fail fast; fail forward." Accept that sometimes things won't go your your way. Fear of failure can stunt growth. Learn from your failures and do it better the next time around. This is truly the best way you'll get real feedback on what people want.

4. Appear to be bigger than you are. You can achieve this without spending budget on it, too. Set up strategic partnerships with others for programming or otherwise to reel in new audiences. Pitch stories and interviews to local publications and blogs about all the great events and programs you have going on. Anything you're excited about is a story idea worth pursuing.

5. Know your value proposition. Scout out what the competition is offering. Identify what two or three things separate you from the rest. Then get your community to understand your biggest priorities and long-term goals. Write speeches and design programming that reinforces that message so that there's continuity and clarity for all.

6. Plan to scale. Commit to the direction you're headed and assure people that you'll carry on the scrappy startup culture that's so important. Keep building at every step, but don't lose sight of what keeps people in the pews. If people trust in the leadership, they will likely get on board with the plan. Without a hope to get larger over time, it's extremely difficult to recruit for additional members and donations.

7. Be a sponge. Nobody knows everything, and everyone knows something. Talk to everyone you can. Make sure you're listening to them. If you're willing to reveal your own gaps in knowledge and areas for improvement, the right people will step up and assist where they can. One of the worst things that can happen at organizations is for good ideas to die inside of someone's head because the person didn't know he was supposed to share it.