Top 10 Cutting-Edge Concepts for Congregational Leaders from 2019

December 29, 2019Daphne Macy

During the past year, the URJ’s Inside Leadership blog has introduced you to various concepts that every congregational leader should know. As 2019 comes to an end, we’ve rounded up the top 10 concepts that will continue to be valuable to your work in the coming year: 

1. Congregational leaders need to start experimenting with change – in a big way. 

We live in challenging times that require us to experiment with more radical changes.

As URJ Vice President Amy Asin shared in her plenary speech at the URJ Biennial 2019, hundreds of thousands of Jewish and Jewish-adjacent people who aren’t connected to a Jewish community could find meaning, joy, and purpose in our communities. For this to happen, we need to work with them to address the disconnect between what they’re looking for and how we present our offerings, and make some necessary changes. 

It’s no longer sufficient to make small improvements. Rather, congregations need to move up the change continuum by experimenting with transformative and even disruptive changes that will shift our goals and put existing assets at risk. 

2. Today’s leaders must move beyond 20th-century governance practices.  

In many congregations, Asin says, our ability to consider the changes necessary to thrive both now and in the future is hampered by 20th-century governance practices still in place. We’ve studied trends in governance and congregational life and shared four best principles of 21st-century congregational governance.

These include: grounding your congregation’s work in your foundational statements; establishing a flexible governance structurecreating a healthy leadership culture; and engaging in ongoing leadership development.  

3. Your congregation can – and should – be both safe and welcoming. 

This past year, we’ve seen a disturbing rise in anti-Semitic incidents. 

The URJ's Rachel Hall and JewV’Nation Fellow Bryant Heinzelman share tips to help you create an inclusive security plan, including: ensuring that your security planning committee is diverse; aligning your security plans with your congregation’s mission; and investing in specialized security and anti-bias training.

Hall and Heinzelman remind us, “When meeting the need for security, the Jewish community must act with both vigilance and an empathetic eye toward those who wish to belong but are made to feel like a ger (stranger).” 

4. When undergoing a strategic planning process, decide what to stop doing. 

For many congregations, discussions around bringing new members and generating more income revolve around adding new programs.

To raise the level of importance of new initiatives and set your leaders up for success, you also need to discuss what to stop doing. Asin shares helpful guidance – and a rubric – to help your congregation make strategic decisions about what to stop. 

5. “Thank you” can lead to a congregational culture of philanthropy.  

“Absent any other efforts, simply showing appreciation won’t change your congregation’s financial culture,” experts say, “but as part of a strategic endeavor that includes written campaign plans, solicitation training, and a concerted effort to build relationships, saying ‘thank you’ can help move your congregation closer to a culture of philanthropy and financial vitality.”

Rabbi Louis Feldstein, along with the URJ’s Michael Goldberg and Robin Riegelhaupt, share tips for getting started – including thanking members for paying dues, which can help them view dues as a charitable contribution rather than a fee-for-service.

6. To renew and reform Judaism, we must create congregational cultures in which failure is accepted.

The Jewish community has always survived and thrived during challenging times by embracing creativity and innovation. The URJ’s Rabbi David Fine and Rabbi Esther Lederman remind us that innovation requires experimentation, which can only succeed in cultures where failure is embraced.

To create such a culture, congregations should embrace a mindset of abundance, recognize the risk in not acting, treat failures as learning opportunities, and cultivate psychological safety among their congregational teams.

7. There are three vital board roles you may not have considered.

When nominating new members for your board, it’s important to think about candidates that can effectively balance the three modes of governance.

But if your board doesn’t have a URJ liaison, a youth leader, and an environmental scanner (no, this isn’t an electronic gadget), your congregation is missing out. Asin explains how adding these three leaders to your board can help your congregation stay on top of current trends, gain new perspectives, and access valuable resources.

8. The solution to an ineffective executive committee is not eliminating it, but rather considering its role.  

In many congregations, the executive committee only serves to pre-process board decisions, rather than fulfilling its true role. What is this role?

Asin explains that an executive committee should: always act as a sounding board for the congregation’s senior leadership; ensure the board is equipped to operate across all three modes of governance; confidentially handle personnel matters; and handle emergency items between board meetings. She describes what an executive committee should sometimes and never do.

9. Through intentional post-b’nei mitzvah engagement work, your congregation can help teens have a meaningful, lasting effect on your community.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all engagement model for post-b’nei mitzvah teens, we’ve identified four principles through our intensive work with congregations who are deeply involved in this work.

Reform Jewish educators Lisa Langer, Rachel Margolis, and Michelle Shapiro Abraham recommend nurturing sacred partnerships, asking questions, listening, experimenting, and investing in mentors, teachers, and role models.

10. Congregational engagement looks different in 5780 than in generations past.  

Engaging congregants is an ever-evolving venture. In modern times, this requires congregations to build a culture of philanthropy, develop small groups, and look beyond the congregational walls. Asin and Lederman share six examples of congregational innovations in these areas from across North America.

To read many of these pieces and many others, and to gain access to discussion guides for your next leadership meeting – access the URJ’s Moving to the Leading Edge: A Resource and Discussion Guide to Move Your Congregation Forward. Newly revised are "Volume 1: Principles that Drive Strong Congregations" and "Volume 2: Leadership & Governance."

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