Bloomingdale's in Manhattan spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on making its store beautiful for the Christmas season. Just as Bloomingdale’s goes above and beyond, so do we. As congregational leaders, we do our best to make our High Holy Day services some of the most memorable (and beautiful) of the year. Of course, Bloomingdale’s displays are meant to entice customers inside so that they purchase something. However, we offer something of much greater value that should not come with a price tag: community.
Yet, putting a price tag on community is exactly what Reform congregations are doing when they sell tickets for High Holy Day services. In our congregation, our administrator has the building looking its best, the music is fabulous, and the rabbis put more effort into their sermons than at any other time during the year. The president always makes a special address to the congregation, more people are involved in services, and our greeters are friendly (and many).
We live in the information age; information is valuable. So, like many other Reform congregations, instead of asking for money, we ask for information. Tell us something about yourselves. Do you live in town? Do you have a partner/spouse or children? Do you have any relatives that live here who belong to our congregation? What is your address and phone number? What is your email address?
While this information is helpful for security purposes, it also gives us a way to connect with people.
There is so much that can be done to follow up with such information. The guest who lives in town is immediately added to our congregational email list. Rabbis can follow up with a call after the High Holy Days. Parents of school-age children can be invited to register for our religious school program, and teens can be invited to a teen activity, like NFTYX.
This, friends, is relational Judaism!
Some will say, “What about the person who takes undue advantage of your hospitality year after year?” Our experience has been that, with relational outreach, such cases are few and far between.
Using this information wisely is one of the reasons why our congregational membership grew by 70% over 25 years. This happened even though our community’s overall Jewish population did not significantly increase during that time.
I realize that, for many congregations, this recommendation will produce some financial challenges. I would urge the leaders of these congregations to find ways to overcome these obstacles. My experience has been that the immediate financial loss is offset by the long-term gains. If we do a great job of helping people feel part of a community, they will join our congregations.
There are other ways information can be used to promote membership. We need to think of more ways to market our congregations to our communities and share all the wonderful things we offer.
It is time for us to stop putting a price tag on community!