Collaborating CongregationsAug 06, 2021
Over the years, religious institutions have faced many challenges. The pandemic created a whole new set of pressures on congregations. We saw some congregations partner and share resources, while others had difficulty collaborating. Depending on where you are in the country, the proximity of congregations can be a big factor when it comes to collaboration. Some synagogues also worry about losing members to each other. While this is a concern for some, many more have realized that it is critical for long-term success .
Factors that Lead Congregations to Collaborate
In the US there are houses of worship every few miles. As far back as twenty years, collaborative work in Metropolitan New York began with religious high schools and youth groups, and has since expanded into other areas such as programming and religious services. For example, one congregation has been bringing together six local Conservative congregations for a very successful Yom Hashoah program. They now also partner with the local Jewish Community Relations Council(JCRC) and local government to increase their overall outreach and impact.
It is no secret that changes in affiliation patterns, aging of our communities, and couples starting families later in life are and have been deeply affecting synagogue membership in recent years. A couple of years ago, some of our senior congregations recognized that young families were no longer moving into their areas so they stopped focusing on outreach only to them. These synagogues began to explore relationships with new adult communities in their neighborhoods and teamed together with them for adult learning and programing.
- Leadership/Volunteer Burnout
Over the last twenty years there has been an explosion of Jewish organizations that all vie for the same pool of volunteers. Synagogues are no longer the primary “adult” volunteer experience. United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) has created several educational and programmatic experiences, to help our synagogues recruit, engage and train volunteers and leaders.
- Financial Issues
Aging buildings, declining membership, lost income from catering/renters, and donor fatigue, all create situations that make sustainability ever more challenging. It is not uncommon for Conservative synagogues to explore combining religious school programs for cost saving purposes. It is now also becoming more common for Conservative and Reform synagogues to rent space from each other, share buildings, or combine religious schools providing more flexible learning options.
Why Efforts to Collaborate Congregations have been successful ?
- A learning process
Partnering with other synagogues affords congregations the opportunity to work with different types of leaders and different congregational cultures. Varied partnerships create a learning process for both parties; they have the opportunity to get better at it or determine that they are not a “good fit”.
- Frequent and Transparent Communication.
Good communication is critical in garnering support for partnerships and ensuring success. Creating relationships and excitement are key to collaborative accomplishments. New York has had a long history of bringing synagogue leadership together to network, share information, and give support to each other.
- Lots of Practice
As in any new venture, there is a learning curve. Synagogues have been collaborating and partnering for years. It’s work that is familiar and comfortable. But they have not become complacent. Our synagogues continue to ask themselves and each other, “What’s working? What’s not? What can we improve?”
Not all collaborations work right away. Timing may not be right, bandwidth issues very often get in the way, egos, and inertia can all create barriers. One congregation became more open to collaborative work when founding synagogue members no longer held leadership positions. Transitions can create new opportunities. It’s important to be persistent, and to look for openings and recognize those transition points.
Why Synagogue Collaboration Matters
It takes vision and courage to consider partnering with other congregations to make a synagogue into a stronger community. Synergies of collective congregations can create a vibrancy for the future that will benefit not only individual congregations, but the larger Jewish community. As you decide to explore collaborations and partnerships, keep in mind that there is safety in numbers and having support from neighboring institutions can often make the topic of safety and security less daunting and intimidating. The team at EMD can guide you through this effort.
- Collective training exercises: Active threat training can be expensive. By combining budgets and teams of administrators and Rabbis, organizations can come together for quality training exercises and to create a community alert system. This way, if one synagogue or school experiences any suspicious behavior or violent attacks, the rest of the community will be notified immediately and will be ready to defend and support the larger community. EMD can assist in setting up these types of systems throughout the community and prepare congregants and families to be more resilient.
- Fundraising efforts for keeping the community safe: If you’re an institution with a limited budget, we can help you with grant funding. Engage us for an information conference with the larger community or a webinar to guide you on your fundraising efforts. We can help you to raise awareness and money in creating safer facilities and best practices.
- Quarterly Security Meetings: Just like a neighborhood watch group, there is safety in numbers when schools and synagogues come together to remain vigilant. By organizing regular safety meetings with the community, you can support each other and share important and potential life saving information. The team at EMD can also provide solid data and reports on current events both within your community and globally. We can provide a structure for your community meetings that support your overall safety and security efforts.
For more information please reach out to [email protected].
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