We have been doing a Shabbat morning service separate from the BM service for the past two years. The service is successful and growing, but is not lay-led as our rabbi and cantor rotate leading the service. It is a testament to their dedication that yes, they lead this service in addition to their Friday night responsibilities and the Saturday morning BM duties. The service begins at 8:30 am and ends by 9:45. I think we would have had a very difficult time getting a successful service off the ground without the clergy. However, regardless, let me share some of the features that I think make it successful:
1. It is informal--people where jeans, shorts or whatever.
2. It is a more traditional service than the Friday night service and attracts a more committed crowd.
3. It is the same service each week and does not try to do the "creative" things that are being discussed recently on the listserv.
4. There are significant roles for those attending (hagbah, reading English, the blessings, Torah procession, reading from the Torah, etc.)
5. The service "counts" for the religious school requirements.
6. It is conducted in the round, which lends to an intimate experience.
7. We use a draft of Mishkan Tfilah. It is just great and everyone likes it a lot.
8. It has a committed small group that "anchors" the service and is there every week.
9. We have food after the service, which lends itself to an important social component for some of us.
We are getting somewhere between fifteen and twenty adults plus kids. In addition to needing the clergy, I must also say that I think it would be extremely hard to get anything going on a monthly or every other month basis. One of the critical things is that this is a service that offers continuity for the congregation and it needs to be every week.
Feb 2006 Digest 027
Our congregation imagined, and created, a Shabbat morning that has worked for more than twenty-five years.
We don't have alternative services--we have five "alternative" Torah study sessions that then meld into one service that begins at 10:30 a.m. The Torah study sessions are based on a variety of factors: Hebrew knowledge; text study based on various commentators; a "beginners" minyan; and other whimsical ideas. Coffee and bagels are served. Each of the sessions ends in a similar manner, singing psalms that lead into the main service.
The entire congregation is always invited, including to the oneg following. If there is a bar/bat mitzvah--as there are most weekends--it is a community event. We all welcome the young person into the adult life of the community. So while there are strangers, out of town family, and others invited by the b'nei mitzvah family, there are usually a large number of congregants as well.
Two to three aliyot are reserved for the congregation, and our aliyot are read in Hebrew or English by the person called up; they never just say the blessing. Each bar/bat mitzvah student has a "gabbai" assigned by the congregation to choreograph the Torah reading of the service. The gabbai also gives a drash, as well the student, and the rabbi gives a sermon.
Our congregation loves to sing--so we do a lot of singing in the service. We do not have fixed seating--and the bimah is only two small steps up from the main floor. The "action" takes place on the main floor--not on the bimah (except for when the Torahs are taken out and put back). Seats are arranged in a semi circle around a lectern where the Torah reading takes place. There are no "machers" as part of the service. It's not about honoring any one (except the student). The president doesn't sit anywhere special. And on Saturdays when there is no bar or bat mitzvah, the service is the same--just no student.
Our first rabbi instituted this model years ago, with the full participation and acceptance on the part of the congregation. We wouldn't have it any other way. [That rabbi], and the congregants, insisted on the notion that this is a community event.
All bar/bat mitzvah students are required to attend a weekly, six-month Torah class--with their parents. The parents sit behind the students and don't talk--only listen to their children discuss ideas, practice, ritual, and religious questions with the rabbi [our current rabbi] has adopted the model but made it very much his own]. The class builds a sense of camaraderie and shared involvement. The class also spends a weekend retreat away together, with parents, at a site that is far enough away from home that it is not commute-able.
It's a pretty good model, I believe. But it takes commitment from board and congregants. The service needs to be a good one: Meaningful and joyous. People need to expect quality. It needs to be a central focus of what the congregation is about. It may be difficult to envision changing your congregation in such a way. But it is possible. As long as the focus remains on the bar/bat mitzvah student and family, and not the service, it is a difficult proposition. If the family feels the service is theirs, and not the congregations, then there will be separate minyanim. But, if you can imagine enough people wanting a worship experience, together, that is serious and prayerful-and where the youngster is part of the congregation and treated as such--you can do this. I'm not saying it's easy. But, we're not the only ones who have done it.
Jim 350 families
Feb 2006 Digest 026
[At our congregation] we are lucky to have an assistant rabbi, a rabbinic scholar and any number of active members who are capable of and willing to lead a Saturday morning "alternative" service. We also are fortunate in having a main sanctuary and two chapels and are blessed with five Torahs.
Since I have been a member, perhaps six to seven years, we have always had an "alternative" service, because, in part, we are also blessed in having a bar/bat mitzvah of from one to three young people nearly every week.
my impressions are that "alternative" services are never going to attract more than a core representation of the congregational membership. With a thousand member units, we consistently have about fifty, dropping to [about thirty] during July and August. I would like to agree that getting members to re-invoke the idea of Shabbat's importance and holiness is an answer. But again, to "flash forward", Jews, like many other religious, are always able to find some other priority to a Friday or Saturday morning service if so inclined. And our society offers so many for those who want an excuse--if they even had it in mind!
When I became a Jew-by-Choice some years ago, my entree to services was the Alternative Saturday morning service. (We call ours Chevrat Torah.) I was tremendously insecure about Friday night: What do I wear, what do I do (everyone else there will know), I don't know anyone, yadayadayada. The attraction of an alternative service in our congregation has been as it was with me: A relaxed, convivial, nonthreatening Torah service at which no one does anything "wrong," i.e., it can be promoted within the congregation and particularly with new members in the area, as a great way to start out. (Don't forget the bagels and cream cheese!) We now have growing teenagers who are frequently called to Torah and sometimes offer comments. We have the core group, but more and different faces are coming and staying all the time.
I have to reiterate, though, I don't think that a greater percentage at [all] services is not necessarily going to happen. Try the carrot, forget the stick, and see what happens in your situation.
Apr 2006 Digest 072
A small group from our Torah Study group (20-35) taught themselves the morning service, and they create a beautiful service; certainly one that ranks with the standard Friday evening Shabbat service in our sanctuary. The lay-led service is performed immediately after the Torah study in the library when there is not a bar/bat mitzvah service in the sanctuary. The other day a woman came to the library for Kaddish, and we did not have a minyan. This concerns us a great deal. We believe we should provide a Kaddish/memorial prayer service for the community. So we are working on this issue.
In my opinion, the problem of a poor turn out for the Shabbat morning service is symptomatic of a poor turn out for religious services in general.
Marty 500+ families
Apr 2006 Digest 072
I wasn't yet a member when our Shabbat morning service began, but I am told that it started as Torah study only, and then people said, "Hey, we're here anyway; we may as well pray." The service started as a short add-on to Torah study, rather than being the "main event." It was initially fairly short; over time it grew to a full service, and now many people come just for the service.
Monica ~860 households
Apr 2006 Digest 073
I attend because I feel the personal desire to be there, and because this is the only service that is done on Saturday morning. When we had tfilah as part of Torah Study I stayed for the main service because I felt it important that the congregation not permit this to become an "invitation only" service. I am becoming less sure of this. I come to daven for myself. I am aware that we need a critical core for the community to continue, and that brings me in when I would rather not. I would much rather not attend some other family's "spectacle" just to be sure there is a minyan of regulars present, that does me no good and merely aggravates me. Paul
Apr 2006 Digest 073
Our temple has an active Torah Study group every Saturday am, with twenty to twenty-five people each week and growing. We have a short tfilah after the study session.
two points :
First, note the word "short" tfilah--the people that started this service agreed to keep it to thirty to thirty-five minutes, and in fact are not very open to creative things that might make the service last longer! I will say though that knowing that the length will be limited makes more people inclined to stay and daven.
Second, I ask that all of you wanting to launch this kind of service be kind to yourselves. Note the various sizes of the congregations--the smaller congregation has more trouble getting this going, the largest congregations have a better chance, and the mid-size ones encounter the building of expectations of the service followed by not having a minyan when you need one. We had a visiting rabbi last year who introduced the concept of a Palestinian minyan, which is six adults rather than ten. This helps a lot when someone wants to say Kaddish.
Elizabeth 650 families
Apr 2006 Digest 073
We have had every-week Bnei Mitzvah for several years.
We had a lay-led service for several years. It began as a "teaching ourselves" opportunity, and the rabbi helped set it up. We divided it into four parts: leader, singer, Torah reader and drash-reader. Most of the time there were only three participants, and occasionally only two. We ranged through the Gates of Prayer and tried all sorts of creative uses of the various services, which made it both enjoyable and a bit unpredictable.
The group began large, and dwindled over time. Part of it was because people learned the service (that was one of its purposes), but also because of other things in their lives. It was discontinued.
More recently (the past three or four years) we have had a rabbi-led once-a-month "alternative" service, while the Bar/Bat Mitzvah runs in the chapel. It's pleasant, and we do get a regular crew in the seats, but it's usually about fifteen people. We don't use the Gates for it; we have used the interim Mishkan Tfilah and also a book created by one of our rabbis. We've also had lots of musical variety, which makes it enjoyable for many people.
August 2007 Digest 164
[Our alternative] service originated several years ago, and was started, I believe, out of two elements: First, that one of our rabbis was interested in working with innovative liturgy, and second, that very few congregants were attending the existing services, in part out of a sense that the services had become too centered on the bar/bat mitzvah event. A year ago, this became a lay-led service (the rabbi who began it left the congregation), and is coordinated by a subcommittee of four people from our Ritual Committee.
We have had attendance of forty to fifty people each month, and we have enough interested and capable people to do Torah and haftarah chanting, as well as a drash, so that the organizing committee does not need to do those parts of the service. We have two to three musicians who help bring great ruach to the services. The committee members take turns planning and leading the service.
We don't "choose" a particular Bar/Bat Mitzvah [service] to "not attend"; the monthly service is simply the second Shabbat each month