I look at the different kiruv (bringing one close to Torah Judaism) groups and organizations around I often find that while each has their own derech of outreach methods and techniques there are some striking similarities between different organizations and several successful businesses.
Each kiruv group is a kli (vessel) for Hashem to bring others closer to Torah Judaism. Just as no two people are the same, not every kiruv group, shul outreach program, or community kollel are the same. What works for teens doesn’t necessarily work for college students or for adults with children. The most successful outreach programs, IMHO, combine the best of the models listed below.
The Barnes & Noble model:
Create a warm friendly environment where you can browse, drink some coffee, and sit in a cozy chair and use their products. B & N offers a no pressure attitude towards making a purchase. You can come and go as you please.
This creates a friendly consumer culture that leaves a longing for more. It’s a no pressure environment that is part escape and part food for the mind.
While most people do not purchase something every time they go into a Barnes and Noble, when it does come time to buy a book, the odds are that they make their purchase in a Barnes and Noble and not think twice about the competition.
Possible examples: Youth groups, college campus organizations and outreach programs, Chassidic branches, adult Jewish learning programs or centers, shul outreach programs, various organization or yeshiva websites.
The Starbucks Coffee model:
While Starbucks is similar to Barnes & Noble (this explains why Starbucks has a contractual agreement with B & N) in the aspect of creating an escape from everyday life, yet there are differences.
Starbucks not only sells their own brand, but they sell a lifestyle that goes along with it. It’s the romance of Italy and the ‘everyday luxury’ of coffee house culture.
It even goes beyond this. Starbucks hopes that their stores become a ‘Third Place’. A place to spend your time when you are not at work or at home. They have, in fact, made their ‘Third Place’ almost everywhere you go like in grocery stores, libraries, banks, museums, and hotels. Now you don’t need an actual Starbucks Coffee shop to have your escape, you can, as they market it, “bring Starbucks to your home”, by brewing their coffee or even owning one of their self branded coffee makers.
Those who walk into a Starbucks are one of two types: those who know exactly want they want and those who don’t. When you walk in the door there is no one greeting you or directing you. If you want their product then you make the first move and order it.
Possible examples: Chassidic branches, youth groups, community kollel (as branches of yeshivos or independent institutions), branches of yeshivos.
The Gap or Apple Store model:
This model is very similar to the Starbucks model in that what is being sold is solely the company’s own product. Again, there are really two types of customers: those who know exactly want they want and those who don’t. Here is where things get interesting.
As you enter the store (either Gap or an Apple Store) you are greeted by a helpful person. If you know what you are looking for, then you are directed towards the specific product.
In case you don’t really know what you want, but know what type of item you are looking for (iPod or khaki pants for example) you are briefly educated and then give several options of what to buy.
Possible examples: Same as listed above, plus organization that specifically create programs to be run in shuls, kollels, and outreach centers.
The Lighthouse model:
While not a corporate business model, a lighthouse represents a subtle, yet at times, powerful approach to kiruv by the individual Jew.
The lighthouse stands and directs those who see it. It warns those of the dangers around, and gives direction to those who seek.
This is the example that each Torah observant Jew should live by, not just those involved in kiruv.
As we go though our day at the office, driving, learning in the beis midrash, and home with our families, we need to be a lighthouse. Our job is to be a shining example of the greatness of Torah Judaism, a walking Kiddush Hashem.