It Is Not Just About Money: But Money Does Help

Happy New Year!  My apologies for not writing for a while.

All of a sudden, there has been a plethora of articles related to synagogue dues and engagement that highlight some themes I have been writing about. You may have already seen one or all of these articles, and I apologize if this is the case.

Last week, Adina Kay-Gross wrote in ejewishphilanthropy.com “Should Young Families have to Pay to Pray”. She describes the hypothetical experience of a young family moving from the city to the suburbs waiting to be welcomed by a local synagogue at the High Holy Days. This was their experience at an urban synagogue that from her description, seemed to have their act together in terms of reaching out to young people.

A few days later, Mitchell Shames wrote, in response to Adina, “Dues Are Not The Sole Stumbling Block To Young Families”, that our synagogues need to be more like Apple products. I actually get what he means. We are an Apple family. MacBooks, IPhones, IPads, IPods – all can be found in our house, and in many other homes. Especially those with teenagers. We think a lot about the Apple brand.  The Synagogue “brand” should convey to us that it is a place that is “cool”, and that we want to be a part of it.

And then on Saturday, before I went to synagogue for Yom Kippur, I read an article in the New York Times by Mark Oppenheim about the dilemma for synagogues of selling High Holy Day Tickets.  In light of membership challenges all over the country, synagogues are discounting High Holy Day Tickets and doing other creative things to encourage people of all ages to become a part of their sacred communities.

So what are the takeaways? Engagement remains primary. Synagogues should be welcoming and caring. Adina’s description about the young couple’s experiences through the PJ Library program at a synagogue should be a synagogue’s M.O. with everyone – congregants and potential congregants.

Marketing and branding are concepts that have become integral to synagogue work. One component to marketing a synagogue in 2013 involves a website, and being sure that it looks inviting and welcoming.  And it must be kept up to date. Just twenty years ago, synagogue shopping for new people to the community began with the Yellow Pages or the local community newspaper. Today, people of all ages will look at your website as well as your Facebook page.  Whether your synagogue is one of many in a community or the only game in town, first impressions remain important.

It would be great if the High Holy Days could be a time when synagogues are the place to be for everyone, regardless whether they are dues paying members or young people new to a community. Facility limitations and recognizing that current congregants – “paying customers” – are taken care of first are realities for every synagogue.

Insuring that High Holy Day Worship is meaningful to those in attendance, enough so people will want to return for Shabbat and other learning opportunities and community events is also important. Here is another way to think of it: if the worship is much like it was at our parents’ synagogues, attendance at Shabbat will still have many challenges.

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