“Engagement of People in Synagogue Life”

When many of us think of the word “engagement”, we think of two people who announce they will be getting married. “Betrothal” is actually one the definitions used at dictionary.com to define engagement.

One other definition used is “the act of being engaged”. When you click on “engaged” in search of that definition, you find “to occupy the attention or efforts of a person” and “to attract and hold fast”. One more is “to attract or please”. These are the ones that we should think of when focusing on the engagement of congregants in synagogue life.

There is a lot of talk that we need to do this. I thought I would share some ideas as to how to go about it. There is much written out there about Shabbat worship and how to be a welcoming synagogue. Being nice to everyone who walks through your sanctuary doors is certainly a good thing. Having meaningful worship – for me it means a lot of congregational singing – is also important.

But what about all of the people who rarely come to Shabbat Worship? How might we engage these folk?

Social media is of course one way. Synagogues are using Facebook and Twitter to reach out to congregants about upcoming events and engage them in conversation about all kinds of stuff. But not every congregant is on Facebook, let along Twitter. And while many people are on Facebook, not everyone is willing to engage, share their life’s story for some, in this forum.

Perhaps the best way to reach a critical mass of a synagogue’s membership is through a Chavurah program. There were many Chavurot that developed in the 60s and 70s that were a response to organized religion. I am not talking about anything counter culture here.

Rather, these are small groups of people that come together within a synagogue community to celebrate Shabbat, go on a hike together or even go to a movie as a group. Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, NC has had a Chavurah program for many years. The synagogue’s rabbis and its Membership Committee devote time to the nurturing of these groups, especially in their infancy. They help them with programming and discussion ideas and are a resource for groups as they grow as a smaller community within the synagogue.

Chavurot can also be a recruitment or outreach tool to reach out to the younger people in our communities who have yet to pay money and officially join synagogues. Check out Rabbi Donald Kunstadt’s blog on the need for synagogues to do this to reach 20s and 30s living in their communities.

The synagogue community organizing model is also another way to engage a critical mass of the congregation in meaningful activities. Take a look at Just Congregations. Synagogues are organizing their congregants in pursuit of social justice in their communities. Working alongside other members of local churches and community groups, the common goal that brings everyone together is to simply make the world a better place.

This is not volunteering in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. This is advocacy on specific issues – health care, immigration, tax reform to name a few – that will make the world a better place for everyone.

Congregation B’nai Shalom in Westborough, MA took the teachings of Just Congregations to help them engage congregants in searching for a new rabbi.  Check out this article in Reform Judaism Magazine.

Involving a critical mass of the congregation in planning for its future as a sacred community is a great goal.  This will help create a community of stakeholders who feel investment beyond financial obligations – in their heads and in their hearts!

1 Comment on ““Engagement of People in Synagogue Life”

  1. Thanks so much for this posting!
    Chavurot were extremely successful decades ago and I am glad to hear that they are still around and making a difference. I found that Chavurot are a great way to bring our members into exploring wonderful possibilities in congregational life. And, as a religious advocate, I really appreciate your focus on social justice!

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