Happy New Year!
The High Holy Days are a wonderful time for synagogues. Synagogue staff and volunteers involved in the planning and execution of High Holy Days worship work like crazy. So much to do by many people in terms of cleaning and preparing the building, security, High Holy Day honors, Family Service, Tashlich, Yizkor – the list goes on!
When the shofar sounds on Yom Kippur, as my rabbi, Steve Kushner, has shared, “it’s Miller Time”. For all of those involved, a Shehecheyanu is certainly in order for such a herculean accomplishment and for reaching such a sacred point in time.
While there is much to be proud of, there is a key question that I must ask: Will they – congregants – come back?
Oftentimes, we are focused on numbers. It is interesting that for churches, the key number of measurement is Sunday worship attendance. In most North American synagogues, the counting model we utilize is “membership units”, whether it be families or individuals.
We know that there will be a full room – or rooms – on the High Holy Days. Sukkot and Simchat Torah may draw a bit of a crowd. And then what happens? Do the people at High Holy Day Worship care about Shabbat? Is being a part of the synagogue community on Shabbat important in people’s lives? Does it give them a sense of community?
What to do about the attendance drop from the High Holy Days to weekly Shabbat worship for most synagogues and synagogue leaders is the real $64,000 question.
This is the time to focus on relationships.
Our busy lives make building community a challenge. Yet, this is the purpose, and “the draw”, that synagogues promote at this time of year. The many synagogue videos I have viewed on Facebook talk about the synagogue as a second home, and that the synagogue community is like an extended family. Synagogue calendars may be jam-packed with programs in the succeeding weeks through Hanukkah. Thousands of emails will be sent and Facebook posts made to encourage attendance.
Will people come? Will they feel a part of a sacred community after the High Holy Days enough to keep coming back?
Maybe your synagogue’s board members have a call sheet of congregants they connect with at this time of year and at Pesach. The week after Simchat Torah is the time for board members to check-in with congregants and see how people are doing. Of course getting people to answer the telephone is another matter. Send them an email or text. Ask them to join you at synagogue at an upcoming Shabbat. Invite them to your home for Shabbat dinner or make a time to get together for coffee. We all lead very busy lives. The effort to engage and involve – if you stick with it and are persistent – will not go unnoticed.
A monthly, personalized check-in with every congregant by board members and staff is an idea worth pursuing. A targeted personalized approach complements the ongoing email blasts and Facebook posts from the synagogue. “Intensifying” the personalized approach- from email, to voice mail, to live call, to in person contact – is a sound game plan for creating community within any synagogue.
Have an easy fast.