Posts Tagged ‘synagogue renewal’


Mission: Impossible or Possible?

Posted on: February 5th, 2010 by Hayim Herring No Comments

It’s legitimate to ask the question, “Why does a congregation need to define its mission?” After all, shouldn’t a congregation’s mission be “to live the word of Torah/Scripture in the world?” On a basic level, that’s true.  But if the mission of the congregation is so amorphous, it will resemble an amoeba trying to move in different directions at the same time.

I like the definition that Rabbi David Teutsch uses in his book, Making a Difference.  A Guide to Jewish Leadership and Not-for-Profit Management.  He writes, “…a strong organization articulates both articulates a picture of the world it is attempting to create and its own particular role in creating it (p.81). Any mission answers the question, why do you exist as an organization?  You can also think of a mission statement as a tombstone.  If your congregation was to leave this world, what epitaph would people write about it?

The skepticism about the need for a clear mission may be related to bad experiences in trying to craft one.  Or, it may reflect the reality that once the work of defining the congregation’s mission is complete, no one really seems to use it.  However, defining and periodically refining your mission can be incredibly powerful for your congregation.

How many times has someone approached congregational leaders with a “good idea,” and was even willing to back it with resources?  If you don’t have a clearly defined mission, you may be tempted to agree to it because of the allure of funding. But that’s a scenario which you will wind up regretting.  Why? Because no major organizational decision should be taken unless it is aligned with your organization’s mission. One of the essential tasks of senior professional and volunteer leaders is to exist in a way that is always faithful to its mission.  With that kind of consistency, your mission will become a driving force for maximizing the impact that you are congregation will have in the world.

Here are some examples of mission statements that can really serve as clear guides to organizational purpose:

What has your experience been with congregational mission statements? Also—I’d love you to submit what you think is an exemplary organizational mission statement. Can’t wait to hear from you!

Rabbi Hayim Herring, President, Herring Consulting Network

photo from, smallritual

Assess All Year ‘Round!

Posted on: September 4th, 2009 by Hayim Herring No Comments

It’s hard to believe it, but Rosh ha-Shanah is closing in already! In the weeks leading up to the yamim noraim, the Jewish High Holy Days, we’re supposed to be especially introspective. We’re to take stock of the year and measure ourselves not against someone else—but against the better selves we can be. (Actually, according to Jewish tradition, we’re supposed to conduct a spiritual check-up at the end of each day!) And, as we get older, we don’t only take stock of the single year that has passed. We use the time to do a more complete assessment of our lives.

I didn’t intentionally plan to be writing about assessment during this season, but I’m glad that this topic will be the focus of my postings during this time when many of us are engaged in personal self-reflection. For as it’s supposed to go for the individual person—self-examination in small and large increments—so, too, should it go for an organization. Organizations which don’t regularly practice assessment are unlikely to make it into the future. Assessment, which is another form of organizational learning, is essential to growth.

Yet, in the many years in which I’ve worked work with synagogues, I don’t recall ever being contacted about a question relating to assessment.  It simply hasn’t made it onto the list of critical capacities that synagogues should possess.

Why should assessment stand at the heart of congregational life? Because synagogue leaders, who work hard to secure resources that make congregations vital, can learn whether these resources are having their intended impact. Applying an essential insight of Peter Drucker, the founding father of non-profit management, assessment can tell synagogues if they’re changing Jewish lives and changing the Jewish community in ways which are consistent with their mission. Assessment doesn’t only drive excellence; it drives the very purpose and meaning of Jewish existence.

Here’s where I can use your help in providing information:
1. If you have an experience involving assessment, please share it.
2. What would make you want to learn more about making ongoing assessment a part of your congregational culture?

Thanks and a shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Hayim Herring

Renewal Efforts: Synagogue Friend or Foe?

Posted on: June 11th, 2009 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Rather than focusing on a particular organizational topic this week, I wanted to make sure you’ve seen a fascinating online debate about synagogue renewal efforts.

It was initiated by a post by Rabbi Gerald Skolnik on Synagogue 3000’s Synablog entitled Synagogue 3000: A Concurring Dissent; Or, Of Babies and Bathwater.  Rabbi Skolnik first describes his Orthodox childhood and education and his journey to becoming a Conservative Rabbi. 

Rabbi Skolnik writes:

It is from this vantage point that I approach the work of Synagogue 3000, STAR, and similar organizations dedicated to the re-creation and re-vitalization of the American synagogue. I understand the challenge at hand. I work with those “Jews in the pews” (or not in the pews!) every day, and know the deep sense of alienation that so many of them feel from traditional synagogue worship and ritual. They are profoundly disconnected from that world of Jewish practice that I live, breathe, and so value. But I have a nagging feeling that, though I understand the goals of organizations like Synagogue 3000 and appreciate what they are trying to accomplish, re-creating the synagogue and its worship is, at its core, a flawed enterprise. That’s why I’ve called this piece a “concurring dissent:” an oxymoron if ever there was one. I agree with the problem, but I’m uncomfortable with the solution. We are changing the davening to suit the daveners, and in so doing, we are losing something precious and irretrievable.

STAR is mentioned specifically in the post and I’ve responded fully to Rabbi Skolnik’s comments. Here’s an excerpt:

I’ve offered to meet with Rabbi Skolnik in Minneapolis or New York to explore the rich, independent data we’ve gathered over the years which tell a story of positive impact that our initiatives have had on congregations of all denominations across North America.  We have a good grasp on what has been successful and what has not, and we think that it’s important to have conversations with others who share our passion for Jewish life and the synagogue which are informed both by feeling and fact. 

We are inspired by the rabbis and synagogues with whom we work – their willingness to hold on to two goals simultaneously: 

These goals can be compatible.

We encourage you to take a few minutes to weigh in on these issues.  Read the Synablog post and comments.

Rabbi Hayim Herring