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.