How to Recruit Event Participants Who Return Again and Again

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By Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham, Congregation Agudas Achim, San Antonio, TX

You had how many people at that event? 300, 400, wow!

This was a question (and response) I would often get when I first began as the Senior Rabbi at Agudas Achim in San Antonio, TX. I had figured out at my first pulpit in Nyack, NY how to create exciting experiences and programs that would bring out great numbers of people. Whether it was Sukkot, Hanukkah, Purim, Passover, or Shavuot, we would often attract hundreds because of the recruitment efforts we had with people reaching out to others they knew in order to spread the word. My mentor, Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, had always stressed the importance of Public Space Judaism, encouraging us to have both experiences away from the synagogue and others at the synagogue that were open in such a way that anyone driving by would know something big was going on.

While the community was thrilled with the large number of attendees at our events (justifying any experiences), I quickly learned that recruitment to large holiday related programs is really just the beginning of engagement to get an individual or a family truly involved in a kehilla and Jewish life, in general. What is most important is building relationships. Thanks to lessons from speakers like Ron Wolfson, the author of Relational Judaism, I work tirelessly to establish one-on-one connections with my congregants.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to connect with every individual on the level I’d like to, simply because there are not enough hours in the day. So, to actually retain the people participating in our experiences, we created an “army” - our recruitment committee - to go out and make those connections happen.

A recruitment committee can be as large as one would like it to be. Our meetings did not need to be regular or long. Instead, we would put together a list of people who either had attended one of our programs or those that someone had met and connected with in the community. We would then take this group and each committee member would commit to connecting with 10-15 people or, either by inviting them to their homes for a Shabbat dinner or Havdalah (service that formally ends Shabbat), or by inviting them to participate at another synagogue experience. Thanks to this group and others in the shul who aren’t “officially” on the committee but help when needed, we not only continue to grow in quantity but also get the new people inculcated in Jewish life and Agudas Achim in particular.

Engagement cannot only be the responsibility of professional staff - it must be a collaboration between staff and the lay leaders. Today, we have changed the name of the committee to the “R&R Committee: Recruitment and Retention,” all made possible through relationships. It is a reminder of our shared goals each and every day.

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham is the Senior Rabbi at Congregation Agudas Achim in San Antonio, Texas. He was named one of the San Antonio Business Journal's 40 Under 40 in 2018, the first clergy ever to receive the award. He has grown his congregation by over 150 member units in the last five years.

Rabbi Abraham previously served as senior rabbi at Congregation Sons of Israel in Nyack, New York, for three years where he received dozens of awards for his work in revitalizing and growing the synagogue. He was also a contestant on The American Bible Challenge game show with Jeff Foxworthy.


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