Communities of Practice: Learning, Change, and Other Benefits that Strengthen Congregations

April 21, 2015
by Amy Asin and Rabbi Esther L. Lederman On May 5th, the URJ will launch applications for a new set of Communities of Practice (CoPs). Topics will include:
  • Building a Brand: Excellence in Reform Movement Early Childhood Engagement
  • Creating Connected Communities for Families with Young Children (for congregations without Early Childhood Centers)
  • Strengthening Israel Engagement in your Congregation
  • Pursuing Justice: Becoming a Community of Action (with the Religious Action Center)
  • Finding the Sacred in the Mundane: Reimagining Financial Support
  • Engaging Congregants: Small Groups With Meaning
How can your congregation decide if participating in a CoP is right for you? You should apply to be part of one of the new CoPs if your community is:
  1. Ready to take innovative action – small steps or large ones, depending on your congregational capacity – in a particular topic area addressed by one of the new CoPs;
  2. Interested in learning how to facilitate change in your congregation – in the specific topic area and overall;
  3. Interested in learning from experts in the field and receiving support from URJ staff;
  4. Seeking the wisdom and partnership of congregations facing challenges and goals similar to yours; and
  5. Looking for a project that will promote leadership development and partnership among congregants, clergy, and other professional staff members.
Being part of a CoP strengthens congregations in countless ways. As participants delve deeper into their topic area, they also will have opportunities to interact with experts, see what other innovative congregations are doing, and understand the costs and benefits of trying new things. But the CoP experience is about more than just learning. The URJ’s Communities of Practice are designed for congregations that want to go a step further, taking action to create deep and lasting congregational change. Perhaps your congregation has been wondering what it would be like to experiment with a new revenue/membership model, try new programming or outreach to families with young children, go beyond social action to social justice, or make changes in another area addressed by one of our new CoPs. If so, we’re ready to dive in with you. We will work with you to choose initial steps that are right for your congregation, balancing risk and reward, along with your capacity to devote necessary resources to the project. One of the goals of our CoP model is to lower the risk of change in your congregation. Joining with other communities that also are trying new things allows your congregation to be in conversation with other innovators, to learn from what they are thinking and trying, and to share stories and get advice. Each new CoP cohort will receive support and individual coaching from URJ staff to help participating congregations make tough decisions and move forward in accomplishing real change. Participation in a CoP is also a terrific way to develop new leadership for your congregation. By engaging a mix of veteran and new leaders, board members, clergy, and staff, your CoP experience will bring together multiple perspectives, and give new leaders a voice in shaping the congregation’s future, inspiring them to take on more responsibility. Often, lay participants in CoP projects go on to become board members and congregational presidents. Although each congregation has a different CoP experience, many participants not only innovate successfully in the CoP topic area, but also learn skills that apply to other aspects of congregational life. Take, for example, Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, MD: The skills their participants learned in a CoP about families with young children helped drive innovation in the religious school. Other congregations might use newfound skills to help manage a rabbinic search process, enrich social action programming, or engage young adults. To learn more about the CoP application process or to sign-up for an informational webinar, visit the CoP website.  If your congregation is considering participation in a CoP, complete an expression of interest form.  For additional information about the new CoP topics or to read about congregations that participated in previous CoPs, login or register to join the conversation in The Tent or contact Jessica Ingram, Manager of Communities of Practice. Amy Asin is the URJ’s Vice President, Strengthening Congregations. Rabbi Esther L. Lederman is the Associate Rabbi at Temple Micah, Washington, DC. She will join the URJ as Director of Communities of Practice in July.

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