Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Shtiebel's Guide to Success

I've been thinking lately about how shuls start and succeed, and the different models for them. In particular, how a shtiebel can just pop up and suddenly become successful. Here's what I've come up with, and I appreciate readers' further input. Granted, it all depends on how you define success. Let's consider a working definition to be a fairly full shul and stable finances, although I'm sure that there are multiple definitions for success. But a shul that is not full usually cannot be financially stable, and then it's bound for failure regardless of how spiritual a place it may be. Let's also assume that there are plenty of frum Jews and shuls to go around, and that the quality of davening will be average.

  1. You want people who daven there Shabbos mornings. People consider themselves members of the shuls they attend for Shabbos mornings and that is where they give their money.

  2. In order to get people to come there on Shabbos, you need to either have such a unique davening that it will attract people like no other shul -- and enough people to sustain the shul,

  3. or you need to have even more people there during the week. Some of them will like the place enough to come on Shabbos also. Then the trick is how to get people to come during the week.

  4. Have enough minyanim at different times so that people know they can always come to the shul and find a minyan within 15-30 minutes. This applies to shacharis and ma'ariv during the week and minchah on Sundays. The rabbi of a new shtiebel should make it his all-encompassing job to recruit people for minyanim and to constantly try to grab people for them. Forget about everything else. Once you have reached critical mass and have a steady flow of people for minyanim during the week, then you can worry about other things.

  5. Of course, the shul needs to be welcoming and people need to feel comfortable. The rabbi's main job has to be as a greeter, to make people feel welcome and to let them know how important their attendance is.

  6. Have a Daf Yomi shi'ur concurrent with one of the minyanim, maybe even two. You do this because your goal is to get people to come in the door. Additionally, they can also help with a minyan until more people come. Early in the morning, most people will not be able/want to concentrate on anything other than Daf. I used to sometimes daven at a shtiebel that had a Yoreh De'ah shi'ur at 6 am, concurrent with the first minyan. The attendance was consistently 2, with the rabbi counting as 1. But that shtiebel had already reached critical mass so it didn't matter.

  7. Have food there at all times. And coffee. And a refrigerator full of soda. You want people to stay there after they daven so they feel comfortable at the shul and, again, you've got bodies to help with the next minyan.

  8. Post the times of your minyanim and make sure everyone in the neighborhood knows them.
Those with more shtiebel experience can feel free to add their thoughts on what makes a shul successful.

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