Today, I worked at a booth at the Granada Hills Street Fair for our congregation. In discussions with the patrons there, I heard two very important messages that have stuck with me:
- I had a couple of people mention a one-time bad experience they had — one time where they weren’t quite as welcomed as they could have been. Now, I know having gotten to know the congregation that this isn’t typical, and that given the chance, people are warm and welcoming. The lesson: Treat every encounter as if this is your only chance to make someone feel welcome. It might be. If you don’t, that one off greeting you give, that one time you talk to your friends instead of welcoming the newcomer — it might be the one thing that makes a great person walk away instead of becoming a member. It may also destroy the one chance you’ve got of meeting and learning about someone really neat.
- We had someone in their early twenties come up to us and ask: What do you have for us? Someone who is single, young, and with no kids. We didn’t have a good answer. If we want Jewish continuity, if we want young people to continue participating in congregation life, we need a good answer. We can’t wait until they join with their kids — for that is too late (especially as people wait longer to have kids). We need to provide that authentic connection to the young singles. Hint: The answer is not in being a matchmaker service. Not all young adults are looking to find their mate, or their mate in a synagogue. Matchmaking happens best when it comes through other interests. We need activities that bring college and graduate level youths in because of their interests, because of their learning, because of their spirituality. Something that is authentic and challenging and is something they can’t get elsewhere. Something, by the way, that is very hard to figure out. What did they do in the past? Matchmaking. That solution isn’t the answer today.
Why post this here? After all, isn’t it the dirty laundry from my congregation. The answer is: it isn’t. I would bet that these two areas are problems for almost every congregation — for every congregation has that guest they’ve turned off, that newly-minted post-grad who doesn’t see something for them as a single with no kids. They are something we all need to find the answer for.