Reform Jewish congregations
throughout North America are facing the challenge of a changing congregational
demographic. An unprecedented number of members are over the age of 50, including many "empty nesters". Increasingly, congregations are facing the challenge of
retaining these members as active participants, once their children are no longer the ties that bind them to temple life. Congregations are learning
more and more how to capture the interests and tap the energy of this growing
segment of their membership.
While congregations have
traditionally focused membership recruitment and programming
on young families, many are surprised
that the number of congregants and new members over age 50 exceeds those
who are younger.
Renaissance Groups provide a
framework for offering creative programming and activities to this
growing segment of members, and for creating a viable
constituency from which to draw volunteers and supporters.
What are Renassaince Groups?
Renaissance Groups are affinity
groups under temple auspices created specifically to meet the needs of the
segment of a congregation who are "empty nesters" in their middle years. Born as
a grass-roots movement in the Union's New Jersey/West Hudson
Valley Region, there are now about 35 active Renaissance Groups that have taken
root since the program began in 1989.
As a membership retention program,
Renaissance Groups bring together the demographic component of a congregation
whose children's education is no longer the reason they are affiliated with a
congregation or the tie that binds them to temple life. Frequently, the need to
send their children to religious school is the motivation for many families to
affiliate with a temple. However, unless there is something else to hold their
interest, many families terminate their membership when their children have
completed the requirements for Bnai Mitzvah and/or Confirmation and have left
home for higher education and careers.
Renaissance Groups offer an
alternative motivation for the parents to stay active in the temple. Rather than
leave the congregation, many of these "empty nesters" now participate in
peer-oriented social, educational, cultural, and recreational activities that
keep them interested and involved in temple life. In addition, many
congregations can document increased membership thanks to their Renaissance
programs that offer non-family-focused alternatives. Because most Renaissance
Groups do not emphasize fundraising, they differ from other temple affiliate
organizations such as a Sisterhood or Mens Club.
Renaissance Group membership is
focused on temple members who are fiftysomethingplus whether married or
single, employed or retired. Programming ideas and planning is most often shared
by the group.
Why Renaissance Groups?
Changing demographics in many
congregations have resulted in a growing proportion of members who are over age
50 and/or who are empty nesters. Yet, many temples continue to emphasize
programming for younger families, thus causing older members to feel alienated,
lose interest and ultimately leave the congregation. Therefore, Renaissance
Groups can be part of a successful Membership Retention Program.
Renaissance Group activities are
specifically intended to meet the changing social needs, lifestyles and
interests of those congregants in their middle years who are empty nesters.
Appropriate programming for
congregants who are in the 50-plus age group can offer a social, educational and
religious alternative to retain them as active
Congregations that have
Renaissance Groups have reported that fewer members are leaving when their
childrens religious education is completed.
Many temples have reported that
their membership has increased among the empty nester age group because of the
presence of a Renaissance Group
Newer congregants in their middle
years without children at home are seeking non-family-oriented activities that
can help them get more out of a temples social, educational and religious life.
Renaissance Group members tend to
attend services more regularly, often as a group.
They can be likened to a Chavurah
Renaissance programs offer older
congregants an opportunity to explore new friendships and interests within their
Renaissance Groups can provide a
valuable contribution to the congregation. While, social, educational and
cultural programming may draw them in, once they are active Renaissance members,
they are more likely to participate in service-oriented activities that benefit
Renaissance Groups offer
synagogues a cadre of willing and available congregants to draw upon when help
Renaissance Group members
frequently have the time to volunteer their services since many are
Renaissance Group members have
demonstrated strong loyalty to the temple.
Renaissance Group members may be
long-time members of a congregation who have been around and know the ropes.
Because of their extensive
experience, as well as business and professional acumen, they can - and should -
be tapped for their expertise.
Renaissance members can become
part of a successful mentoring program for newer congregants.
Renaissance Groups give temples
the opportunity to offer programming to promote multigenerational fusion.
Many Renaissance Groups
participate in surrogate grandparent programs that pair Renaissance members
with Religious School students.
Renaissance members use fewer of
the temple resources than younger families.
Members of Renaissance Groups
often have greater financial resources to contribute to a temple than do younger
How to Start a Renaissance Group in Your Congregation
Meet with the temple Membership
Committee and/or Board of Trustees to determine whether a Renaissance Group is
appropriate for your congregation.
Do you have a population of empty
Do member families seem to leave
or lose interest once their children have completed religious school?
Are older members becoming less
involved in temple life?
Do you have programming for other
specific age groups (i.e. Young Couples Club; Senior Citizens/Retirees,
It is essential for Renaissance
Groups to have the support of clergy as well as temple officers.
Renaissance Groups should be
considered a valuable temple affiliate on a par with other temple standing
The Renaissance Chair should have
a designated seat on the temple board
Secure budgetary support of
Subsidy for specific
Schedule and host an
Send announcements -- via t
bulletin, general congregation mailing, or targeted mailing to specific
demographic population that represents potential Renaissance Group
Decide on the
purpose/objectives of the Renaissance Group
Social, educational, cultural,
religious, temple/community volunteer service, fundraising,
Develop criteria for
Renaissance Group membership
While each group sets its own
requirements for membership, most are open to
Members of the congregation only
Congregants in the 50-plus age
Minimum age is generally agreed
upon as a criterion for membership but most Renaissance Groups do not set a
Both couples and singles
Congregants either working or
Decide on Administrative
Renaissance Groups can choose the
administrative framework that works best for them:
secretary, treasurer, program chairperson, etc.
Steering Committee with rotating
It is suggested that
administrative responsibilities be shared by more than two people
To encourage greater participation
Plan for leadership succession
Dues should be modest
Most Renaissance Groups set annual
dues at $10 per person, although some charge as much as $15-$20 per
Dues can be used to subsidize
expenses for programs.
Dues can entitle paid members to
special and/or discounted programs and activities.
Establish separate bank account or
accounting system so that Renaissance Group funds can be kept separate from
other temple accounts.
Establish Program Planning
Determine optimum number of
activities per year
Some groups hold regular monthly
Some groups plan only 4 6
programs per year.
Share planning and execution of
Solicit volunteer coordinators for
Gather suggestions for programs
Discuss interests of potential
Circulate questionnaire, if
Actual activities will vary
according to the interests of members, types of other temple activities offered,
programs available in the community within reasonable proximity to temple, etc.
Scheduling should not conflict
with other similar temple activities
Rabbi and/or temple Ritual
Committee should advise whether events can be scheduled on Shabbat
Initial event should be social and
should be geared toward attracting new members
Make dues the price of
Publicize Renaissance Group
Use general temple
mailings/bulletin to publicize all Renaissance Group events
To ensure the widest audience is
aware of the programs
Tips to gain and sustain
Renaissance Group membership
Send annual dues bill along with
schedule of programs at start of temple calendar year
Send invitation to join
Renaissance Group when a temple member reaches qualifying age
Offer free dues for first
Promote Renaissance Group
activities through regular column in temple bulletin
Publish and distribute special
Renaissance Group newsletter