20 years from now, how will people who move to your community find your synagogue?
Years ago, it was often the real estate agent who was the primary resource. Or even the Yellow Pages – remember those? Or maybe, like us, you had a cousin or a good friend who moved to the community a few months earlier and gave you the action plan to find the synagogue.
Friends and cousins will always remain the best resources. Real estate agents, too. But the one advantage today is of course the Internet. People will the knowledge of the name of the synagogue will take out their smartphones and explore your synagogue’s website or visit its Facebook page. What you say on your website about what your synagogue is all about is really significant. And so are pictures. They will be looking for faces of congregants that tell them that this is a joyful and fun community. And that there are people who look like them – so that they see themselves as having peers.
So that young couple with an infant who just moved to town sees that there is a Tot Shabbat with dinner coming up on the synagogue website. The Facebook pages highlighting pictures from the last Tot Shabbat looks like the young children and the parents were all having fun. They make a notation on their electronic calendar and decide to try it out.
Friday comes and the three of them show up at the synagogue at the appointed hour. Another young couple greets them as they come in and introduces them to the rabbi. The rabbi spends a few minutes talking with them. Cards are placed on the dinner table with a couple of pens for people to share their contact information– still a very key step in this whole process.
On the next Tuesday, the rabbi sends the young couple an email noting how nice it was to meet them and encourages them to call with any questions. The rabbi calls a few days later to see how they are doing adjusting to a new community. A few days later, the young couple they met in the lobby who they had talked with throughout the evening emailed them to invite them to their home for Shabbat dinner. And to tell them about the upcoming programs at synagogue in the next few weeks that are geared for young families.
Technology remains an important tool for communication. But you can’t be totally reliant on it. It still comes down to “shoe leather” – the hard work of the Shabbat greeters and the rabbi to reach out and engage potential congregants.
So in many ways, the synagogue of tomorrow – and yesterday and today – is still really reliant on people and relationships.
When we were young – my head says it seems like yesterday, but my knees tell me differently – this is pretty much what happened once we walked into a local synagogue. There weren’t any websites or social media – word processing was just becoming in vogue. There was a reliance on the U.S. Mail, and Ma Bell and the telephone as the primary communication vehicles.
And people to develop and nurture relationships. Like it is today.