After We Attract, What Comes Next?


By Joyce Hyde, The Emanuel Synagogue Executive Director

This article was originally published in Everything Emanuel, Vol. 94, No. 5, the May/June 2019 newsletter of The Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford, CT. It is part two of a two-part blog series about attracting synagogue members. Click here to read part one.

In the last newsletter, I discussed the importance of embracing modern marketing practices in order to successfully attract new members to our congregation. Although attraction is indeed a key first step followed by engagement, there exists a misconception that “joining” is then a foregone conclusion. Most of the time, however, there is an intermediary step made up of consideration, questioning and evaluation that exists between engagement and the actual membership commitment. With the current trend in Jewish Conservative affiliation on the decline, we at The Emanuel need to remain mindful of this declining trend and therefore try to always align with current best practices in the process of building congregation membership.

To move from “engaged visitor” to congregation member, a real CONNECTION must occur (or rather be FELT) by the potential member during his/her visit. In the eagerness to get new members to join our congregation, we must avoid unintentionally overwhelming visitors through multiple introductions and sharing details of every program opportunity, before asking what they are interested in and what they need. Current recommendations stress the importance of listening, with a focus on what is actually being said, as opposed to what we think is being said (or experienced or felt) as more conducive to real connection building.

On the other hand, a lack of follow-up for fear of being “too pushy” can be a no-win strategy for membership building. For instance, a great connection can be made on an initial visit, but if there is no established process for follow-up, those first visit connection threads will start to unravel, followed by a diminished likelihood of joining. At The Emanuel it is critical that we focus on practicing an established process of follow-up for every guest interaction that will create a proactive culture of membership building.

A good process of building membership centers on creating relationships — which takes time. While visitors rarely join on a first visit (especially if their visit is on Shabbat), a process for follow-up is essential. When a good connection is established, the follow-up is a natural and easy process, as it is just the “next step” in building a relationship. Even a simple “sign-in” sheet not only helps to identify who came but also offers an opportunity to extend that relationship with a cordial follow-up.

<p><strong><em>A suggested quick tip sheet for proactive connection building</em></strong><br /></p>

A suggested quick tip sheet for proactive connection building

Thinking differently on how we attract and engage potential new members, as well as how we manage the membership relationship after the initial joining process is crucial to overall synagogue sustainability. David Trietsch, director of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies Leadership Development Institute in Boston, shares this true example of outdated membership management in action:

The call came first thing Monday morning. “This is Rabbi Kline (not his real name). I heard that you might be able to help us.”

Rabbi, what is the problem?” asks Trietsch.

Members aren’t coming to services, each year we get fewer and fewer.”

I’m sorry to hear it, what are you doing about it?”

I call them and tell them COME TO SERVICES!”

Although there is humor in the above exchange and The Emanuel clergy would never respond this way, the reality is the Rabbi is responding like this because it probably had worked to some degree in the past. He or she may be from an era in which people “obeyed” the Rabbi out of respect, fear, guilt, or a combination of all three. Nevertheless, the Rabbi probably realized the old strategy had stopped working — thus his call for help.

Data shows that today’s congregant is interested in sparking authentic connections as opposed to feeling like they are being “told” what to do, so it is important that our processes for engagement are perceived as such. While there is information to support that feeling valued and empowered is of significant importance to the Millennial population, synagogues are experiencing a general attitude shift overall towards giving congregants the space to choose how they want to be engaged. In doing so, they report seeing their congregations are more vested and expressing a deeper sense of engagement in their synagogue experiences. Could we find new (and perhaps more successful) ways for congregants to become even more engaged in The Emanuel experience leading to greater fulfillment

Treitch talks about the importance of congregations establishing a “value proposition” (why people should continue to engage, as opposed to going somewhere else or just not joining at all). While he admits terms like “value proposition” may sound like a business term that does not fit within a religious organization, he argues that thinking more pragmatically can be helpful when dealing with issues relating to congregation stability. Identifying and then building the value proposition into the congregational culture gives synagogues a blueprint to help course correct when faced with declining membership trends.

If we can clearly articulate our value in who and what we are at age 100, then we will have armed The Emanuel Synagogue to move boldly into the future

Joyce Hyde is the Executive Director at The Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford, CT. She brings to The Emanuel years of experience in successfully implementing systems to support growth for a variety of membership-based organizations. A former professional dancer (google ‘Get up and Dance, Paula Abdul….), Joyce can be found weekend mornings in ballet class in New Haven or on the train to New York for dance classes in the city, as well as spending time with husband Derek and their dog Pre, and cat Smoke.


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