While I can’t remember the source, there’s a beautiful story that describes how a man sets out on a worldwide quest to find the greatest treasure in the world. After wandering the world, he returns home and digs underneath his own kitchen floor and—finds that the treasure had been there all along. The treasure has been there all along….
This story makes me think about the hidden treasures that are right in the middle of congregations: namely, volunteers. Why?
Let’s look at some basic demographic characteristics of American Jews, relative to other ethnic and religious groups:
- They’re highly-educated.
- They excel in the fields of arts, education, entertainment, medicine and business.
- They have a higher average income (which should not obscure the numbers of Jews in poverty, an issue that is discussed infrequently).
- Often serve on civic boards or have volunteered for other organizations.
Members of congregations are amazing underutilized assets!
In 2004, Dr. Amy Sales, noted Jewish researcher at the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Life at Brandeis University, published a study entitled The Congregations of Westchester in which she provided rich data on congregational life from 16 congregations. She asked participants to respond to the statement, the “synagogue makes good use of my skills and abilities.” A mere 34% of respondents agreed with that statement. In a related vein, 66% of the “rank and file” membership reported that they were “not at all active” in their congregation.
Imagine what congregational life could be like if these statistics were reversed, so that 66% of congregational members reported that the synagogue makes good use of their skills and abilities and 33% of the members reported that they were not at all active in their congregation!
So, here are two questions I’d like you to respond to:
- How can synagogues make more members feel that they make good use of their members’ skills and abilities?
- How can synagogues increase the number of “rank and file” members who want to volunteer their time for some aspect of synagogue life?
Rabbi Hayim Herring