Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How to attract people to your shul

Yesterday, someone came to my site by Googling “How to attract people to your shul.”

(For the record, they ended up here. As opposed to the Serbian person who Googled something far more obscene involving carnal relations and spitting, and ended up here.)

The results for that Google search are actually pretty interesting - they turn up discussions of technology, homosexuality, quality of davening, interfaith services, social action and more.

If you ask me - and you did by coming here - the first way to attract people to your shul is to start working on the following four questions:

1. Do you know whom you want to attract?
Are they local people? Local Jews of your beliefs, or local Jews who have other beliefs and are associated with other shuls, or local unaffiliated Jews, or local non-Jews?

Or are they people who live outside your area? Where do they live?

Are they young families with children? Families with teens? Older couples who have the time to serve on your boards and committees, and attend your programs? Retired people? People with discretionary income? What are your priorities?

2. Why aren’t these people at your shul already?
Is it because they think your beliefs are wrong? Is it because they have a better kiddush where they go? Is it because you have no jobs, or no affordable real estate? Is it because your community is on the Jewish equivalent of Pluto?

Is it because your chazan is a droning bore, or because you don’t have a chazan? Is it because the rabbi is a cold fish, or too warm and fuzzy? Is it because you have a rabbi at all? Is it because your rabbi doesn’t blog? Is it because they don’t believe in shuls? Is it because they want a stronger schoool?

Is it because they've heard horrible things about your shul? Is it because your shul is so successful that they feel more needed and welcome elsewhere?

Is it because their friends don’t go to your shul? Is it because they – and/or their friends - aren’t Jewish?

3. What are your strengths and weaknesses (not “challenges” – weaknesses, call them for what they are), for attracting these people to your shul?
Do you have a database of all of your members, broken down by age and children and year they moved in and education and interests and all sorts of other useful pieces of information? If not, stop everything and create that database. Even if it doesn’t help you attract a single new member, it will help you avoid losing the ones you have.

If you already have a database, can you determine your strengths? Do you have young couples, who might know other young couples who might be interested in moving in? Do you have people who work at key companies, and might be able to help you get information on jobs from HR? Do you have older families with children who live in key starter communities like Queens and New York’s Upper West Side, such that they might know people who are looking to move?

Do you have a youth program? A kiddush? A youth kiddush? A breakaway minyan? No breakaway minyan? A short, tall or in-between mechitzah? A beautiful building? A mother-baby nursing room? A thorough educational program for adults and youth? A great day school? A great high school? Playgrounds and parks and attractions?

4. Now that you have identified strengths and weaknesses, what can you do about them?

Can you fund a restaurant? Can you expand the eruv? Can you create a resource to list available jobs? Can you create a Youth program? Can you fire the chazan? Can you hire a chazan? Can you improve your school? Can you make your community warmer, larger, smarter, frummer, younger? Can you advertise your warmer, larger, smarter, frummer, younger community in an eye-catching, heart-catching way?

My biggest gripe: Communities that put together cash incentives to convince people to move in, without working on the problems that are keeping people away. To quote Ms. Mayefsky, z”l, that’s like putting a band-aid on a fracture.

Those are four questions, of many. Asking and answering them doesn’t guarantee any growth; I have done these exercises in Allentown, but didn't get all of the progress I wanted.

But Googling can only provide more questions, not more answers. The answers are all at home.


  1. http://www.rakefet.com/

    It's a fantastic synagogue database program, really worth checking out.

  2. challenge imho for an existing community shul is that it is defined by who is there already and many may not be amenable to a change in the value proposition.
    Joel Rich

  3. rabbi, excuse my going off topic. instead of the jewish leaders going to obama's office to plead for equity toward Israel, they should go to shul and pray for forgiveness about their elitist arrogance this past november, and the consequences which they only now realize.

  4. Anonymous 3:26 AM-
    I'm not familiar, I must admit.

    Yes, this is a very big deal. Part of it is the issue of tolerance I discussed here, and part is the question of whether people really want a larger/stronger/healthier shul if they don't get to personally lead it.

    I'd say they could do both!

  5. I was just discussing this over Shabbos. At the Shul i just went to, i felt that as a newbie, the service was "advanced". Now i want to follow along, and i am motivated, but for the true newbies just returning, a full on shabbos service can be entirely scary. So why not a "beginner service". With a little prayer, and a little bit of lessons in Tefilah.

    THen let them graduate to the full service. Have a plan that

  6. Shorty-
    Providing they can do the Beginners' Service in a way that best serves the participants, yes. It's actually more challenging than it looks, I can say from experience.

  7. It's amazing how different locations have different problems.

    Here ion Modi'in, Baruch Hashem the problem isn't how to attract more people, but how can we limit the number of people coming to Shul as we have no way to accommodate them.

    Unfortunately most of the shuls in my neighbourhood have been forced to cap membership, there is just no way to accommodate more people.
    I even used to attend a minyan at 7:15 Shabbat morning, the organizer once told me that he picked that time as it is not convenient for most people so it wouldn't be too crowded!

  8. Michael-
    Yes, a terrible problem that is...

  9. Hi, i really love this blog!!!
    Its the first time i saw it and let me tell u that its perfect!!! you say the truth, and people have problems everywhere, its lke our nature...
    Im making a blog about my husband and me, he dosent know yet, so if you could give me some ideas, plz comment me, and be part of my blog.

    Take care!!! keep in touch!!!

  10. Thanks, Priscilla. I'd suggest that you keep the blog private-access-only until your husband knows about it, though.