Missing: The Vision and the Values

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January 4, 2004
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by Andrew Silow-Carroll

WHEN WE TALK about “marketing” Judaism, it’s no longer a question of whether we should or shouldn’t. Every institution has an advertising and public relations budget; few worry about getting their hands “dirty.” And the taboo about corporate sponsorship — glossy ad pages and lists of “community supporters” at the back of event brochures—has paled.

And yet, despite experience with marketing, Jewish communal institutions don’t seem very good at it. While some individual advertisements and campaigns have been clever or appealing, they always seem to address short-term goals: How do we get you to come to this service? How can we entice you into enrolling in this course, or give to this campaign? This exemplifies a “product-driven” model of Jewish life, as if our institutions offer only discrete services to consumers.

What is often missing from Jewish communal marketing is a reflection of the bedrock vision of the institution behind the ad — the core values and purposes that the institution hopes to share with its members.

In this, mainstream Christianity is way ahead of us. Jewish groups look with envy on the 20,000-member “mega-churches” and assume their success has everything to do with their shopping mall approach to faith: a sprawling campus offering dozens of choices for Sunday-morning worshipers, combined with a JCC-like array of activities for the rest of the week.

But a look at the literature of the mega-church movement suggests that this approach to “selling” Christianity is only successful if it reflects a clearly articulated, inspiring vision at the church’s core. In that, how-to books for preachers are as likely to quote self-help guru Steven Covey as they are Jesus Christ. Take PastorPreneur, a new book by Dr. John Jackson, pastor of the Carson Valley Christian Center in Minden, Nevada. Jackson offers a step-by-step guide to “planting” a church and helping it grow, with the requisite “five strategies” for getting there. His advice is practical: build relationships with area institutions, greet every new face at the door as you would a long-time congregant, plan three or four major “faith-building events” a year to attract outsiders.

But the heart of Jackson’s message is to clarify the vision. “Establishing your church’s identity is extremely important,” he writes. “It becomes the motto or tagline that people associate with your church.”

Jackson is not suggesting mere sloganeering. “A church’s identity,” he writes, “reflects its grasp of God’s purposes and character, and how God wants to use the gifted people in the church to meet the specific needs of people in that community.”

“God’s purposes” is not a phrase I hear in Jewish communal meetings, since we tend to be wary of individuals or institutions who claim to know exactly what those purposes might be. But you don’t need to embrace Jackson’s specific vision to appreciate the importance of having a vision — any vision at all. Madison Avenue calls it “branding”; corporate culture calls it a mission statement.

“Consumers” respond to these visions — if not at a conscious level, then at a subconscious one. While a good ad might raise attendance at a particular event, only a strong sense of purpose keeps people coming back. When I worked in public relations, I often asked my boss, “What would success look like?” For the pitch in question we’d talk about ticket sales or the number of articles generated in the press. But I was looking for a different answer, a different focus — not measuring success for this program or position, but a broader, deeper measure of success.

These aren’t just marketing questions. They are questions about the essential Jewish enterprise. If a Jewish institution can’t answer them, there’s no advertisement campaign in the world that can save it.

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