In my 12 years in the pulpit, I served in two shuls, both of which went through times when we had difficulty ensuring our minyan. Certain times of year were harder than others – early winter afternoons for minchah/maariv, post-Succos and post-Pesach for Shacharis as men needed to make up for time taken off from work – and then other times were challenging because we needed to provide minyanim for shivah houses as well.
We tried various tactics to help build the minyan, including-
...asking people to pick specific days of the week to attend,
...running educational programs about the importance of minyan,
...offering kids “Torah Cards” and prizes for attending, and
...scheduling teen programming so that they would be in shul at the time we needed them.
Some suggested providing post-minyan food and drink, newspapers to read in a lounge before or after minyan, and so on. Some wanted to give dues discounts for those who supported the shul by coming to minyan. No different from what many shuls do.
It was hard, and draining. Spending time – sometimes daily, in my first shul – calling or emailing people to ask them to stop into shul for 35 minutes, for their own mitzvah, can really sap a rabbi’s energy. Here the rabbi is, spending his entire day and much of his night looking after the needs of individuals and institutions, and people can’t be bothered to help out the community, if not themselves, by coming to shul? The daily grind of it can really wear.
But here’s a thought I never tried: Imitate the strategy Bill Veeck pioneered in baseball, and create special Days or Nights appealing to special segments of the population. Perhaps there could also be sponsored giveaways, modeled on ballpark giveaways.
A quick search on-line turns up various kinds of ballpark giveaways: Bat day, Helmet day, Cap day, T-shirt day, Jersey day, Wristband day, Piggy bank day, Bobblehead day, Spatula day, Picture day, Autograph day, Beach towel day, Comic book day, Umbrella day, Reusable shopping bag day…
And then there are the days and nights dedicated to attracting a specific segment of the population: Children’s day, Ladies’ day, Star Trek night, Singles night, Legal Professionals night, Indian Heritage night, Irish Heritage night, Chinese Heritage night, Jewish Heritage night, Scout day and so on.
So why not do the same in shul?
There could be giveaways, sponsored by local businesses – books, sports memorabilia, trinkets, office supplies, etc.
And, perhaps better, there could be minyanim targeting specific segments of the population, with programming attached to suit their needs. Accountants Night, with a brief shiur, or even a secular class, on taxes. Children’s Day, of course, perhaps split up by grades. Lawyers, Physicians, Singles, New Yorkers, Hockey fans, and so on.
Sure, this would be a lot of work to set up, initially, but once you have a portfolio of 30-50 ideas, it’s fairly easy to run through them repeatedly, and people might actually enjoy it. Perhaps this could be done for one particular weekday - Tuesdays, for example - as a test of its appeal.
I’m glad I’m no longer responsible to ensure there is a daily minyan, but I think this could be fun.