Numbers vs. Community and Meaning

What are some of the synagogue numbers that are important?

The bean counters always look at the budget metrics. How are we doing in terms of receivables for dues, religious school and fundraising compared to last year? What is the student population of our ECE program? Census numbers for ECE, Religious School, camp, and even adult education –when there is a ticket price and income involved – is important. For the income and expense numbers anyway, and probably for census related numbers, too, there are computer programs specifically for synagogues that allow this counting and analysis to be pretty automatic. Even for those of us who are challenged in terms of math.

Excel and other programs allow us to do bar charts and graphs to compare all of these numbers to last year’s and to this year’s projections. And while these charts look nice and are easy on the eyes, what do they tell us? We have a sense as to how the synagogue is doing in terms of budget projections and whether we are a little ahead, a little behind, or just on projection compared to last year.

Don’t get me wrong, this stuff is important. There is other counting that we do all of the time. We count B’nai Mitzvahs, Youth group members, participants in the Renaissance, Leisure and Senior Groups – or whatever it is called in your community. Thee numbers, compared to similar ones from prior years to contribute to the sense of a synagogue’s vibrancy.

20 synagogues in Pittsburgh along with several Jewish not-for-profit organizations are doing all kinds of measuring and examination of numbers through a major community project called the Jewish Scorecard. In terms of synagogues, they are looking at the basics of membership, along with the number of conversions and participants and premarital classes.

There are some other numbers that we don’t often do enough of a deeper dive into that may also give us a sense as to how well a synagogue is doing in terms of building community. How many congregants have been part of the synagogue for 10 years? For 20 years, and even 30 years? A question that will be the focus of a future blog may be whether people who have been a part of a synagogue community for such periods of time are ever acknowledged in some way.

The flip side of this is the plus/minus in terms of membership each year. How many people joined? And how many people decided to make the declarative statement by not paying dues that they are no longer synagogue members.

How are people feeling about their involvement in synagogue life? Do they feel a strong, or even stronger attachment to the synagogue and the community? Are they finding meaning in having Judaism be an integral part of their lives? Thought leaders about synagogue life are saying that these, too, are the questions we should be grappling with. We need to do periodic surveys and focus groups to give us the answers to these and other related questions. And through personal interactions with congregants by clergy, staff and leadership, we will also hear the stories about the meaning of the synagogue and the sacred community in their lives.

4 Comments on “Numbers vs. Community and Meaning

  1. Thank you. Right on the money David. I particularly love the question “Are they finding meaning in having Judaism be an integral part of their lives?”

    • Thanks so much, Fred. Synagogue leaders also have to ask the question, and be prepared for any response, even if it is one that we don’t like.

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