Three Legs of the Connected Congregation Stool

Connected Congregations are synagogues that function as communities in the deepest sense of the word.  They are not about the building, the events, the rabbi.  At least not alone. They are about a group of individuals and families with shared values, practice and goals, who feel a sense of sacred obligation to one another.  It FEELS GOOD to be part of a community like this.

As we've been researching connected congregations, working in networks, being a network weaver, and organizational change, we've learned that becoming a connected congregation is more than a new way of developing programs.  It's more than helping people get to know each other better (and deeper) — though that's important too.

Becoming a connected congregation really means reprogramming your synagogue's DNA.  Sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways.  We've boiled this down to three main categories. Within each category are several main levers of change that you'll need to examine:  staffing and communications.  More on that below.

  • Programs. This may seem like the most obvious one, but it's really quite profound.  People come to programs as much (or more so) for the people than for the content of the program.  It's true.  Studies confirm it.  So, even if the content is a strong driver of our mission and goals as a congregation, let's design for the social value.  How can you maximize social connection before the event?  Facebook events allow folks to see who else might be going, for example.  Or social content that participants will want to share through their own networks. How can you maximize the social connections during the event?  And how do you share back with the community about the event afterwards?  What is the role of a "program director"?  How does this person incorporate network weaving into their job, or as a primary function of their job?  In the recent Vision and Data Report from UJA Federation of New York, one congregation reflected on how a small adjustment in programming made an important difference:

“We had tried social programming in the past but never got the turnout we hoped for, which led us to conclude (wrongly) that people did not want to make social connections through the Religious School. Measuring Success helped us develop a targeted follow-up survey to probe deeper about social connections. That led to an “aha moment” when we learned that people do want to make social connections, they just do not want us to add new events to their calendars. When we realized that, we took steps to build socializing and community-building into existing events.”  —Barri Waltcher, Vice President and Chair of Religious School Committee, Temple Shaaray Tefila

  • Finances.  If you've read The Networked Nonprofit or been on our Network Nonprofit webinars, you heard us use the metaphors of a fortress and a sea sponge.  They represent the poles of a continuum, where on the one end there are big, tall, exclusive fortress walls, and on the other end, the networked organization that needs a constant flow of nutrients, is open and porous, and live in symbiosis with other organisms.  Look at the financial model of your synagogue through that lens.  Dues and membership are one major component (see here and here for examples of synagogues that have done away with dues as we know it), but there are others.  Temple Beth Abraham questioned whether their offer of reduced dues stepped from a place of loving kindness, or as the local IRS (see case study here).  Too often our synagogues become places of "transactional Judaism", which ultimately doesn't benefit the individual, the synagogue or Jewish life.
  • Governance. Clearly governing policy and culture is critical as a connected congregation.  It's also a key part of how you become a connected congregation.  For example, a current synagogue president may be very interested and committed to this idea, but if the next 2-3 synagogue presidents are not also on board, the effort may lose momentum.  Measurement is also an important consideration.  How does the congregation understand its mission, and how does it measure its work to achieve those goals? Aligning mission and goals with metrics, data collection and analysis will help leaders clearly appreciate where they are making process towards being a connected congregation, and where further refinement or effort is needed.

Underlying all three of these areas are questions of staffing and communications.  Where do you need staff capacity and expertise?  Where are staff 'over-functioning' in a way that might in fact be disempowering members of your community?  Where is expertise highly valued or needed?  How might you adjust current job descriptions and/or titles to reflect the real need as culture, programs and the need for expertise shift?

And finally, recognize that in today's connected, fast paced world, communication is essential.  The right tools, applications, voice and regularity of communications will grease the gears of all the change and process in program, finance and governance.  Openness and transparency earns trust, and accessibility builds relationships that are the foundation of eveything else.

Where are you experimenting with change around programs, finance and governance? Are there other categories you'd like to add to the list?

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