Learn more about this exciting new platform, where Reform congregational leaders connect with colleagues and peers who have similar concerns, interests and responsibilities.
More than three years ago, four visionary congregations – Central Synagogue in New York, NY, Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, TX, The Temple in Atlanta, GA, and Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, CA – began to work together, in partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism, on a new strategy and vision for congregational life. That vision centers around “small groups,” a concept adapted for our purposes from the world of mega-churches.
Temple Emanu-El in Dallas articulated the vision this way: “Imagine hundreds of Temple members gathering regularly in small groups to learn and laugh, to rest and rejuvenate, and to deepen connections to one another, to the congregation, to the Jewish people, and to the rhythms of Jewish time and life.”
What exactly are small groups – and how do they help us reimagine congregational life?
Small groups (fewer than 15 people) focus on the lives and significant concerns of a congregation’s members. Organized around topics of shared interest, similar life stages, and neighboring geographies, small groups feature shared Jewish experiences, learning, and celebration, and are guided by lay leaders. The groups meet regularly, and shared accountability among members is high.
In some ways, small groups are an incarnation of chavurot (friends, literally, who gather for Jewish worship, learning, and lifecycle events), but they have two distinct differences:
These stories exemplify how small groups can transform congregational life.
Using a collaborative model similar to the one the first innovating congregations used to develop their small groups, including the curricula and training that helped make the groups successful, we currently are working with 19 congregations of various sizes across North America in a URJ Community of Practice on Engaging Congregants through Small Groups with Meaning. Not only is this work generating tremendous energy, but also transforming congregations into the focal point of meaning and relationships in people’s lives. It is making the impossible seem realistic for all. Indeed, I am energized when I think about what congregations may look like with a small group mindset at their core.