Yesterday, I taught a session to a group of young leaders at the Orange County Jewish Federation as part of an innovative, intensive seminar called SkillSetNPO. The entire two-year program was shaped by Sarah Brenner, an outstanding organizational development consultant...who happens to be a great-granddaughter of Mordecai M. Kaplan!
The topic was how to "create loyalty" among participants in Jewish communal life. I suggested that "loyalty" is all about deepening the relationship between people and between the people and the organization. When it comes to a spiritual community, "relationship" can also be between the people and the clergy...and, most importantly...between the people and God. In Hebrew, of course, this is the concept of "bein adam l'chaveiro," "bein adam l'kehillah," and "bein adam l'Makom."
Creating relationships begins at the very first moment of encounter. You've heard of the old saw: "there's only one chance to make a first impression." Relationship experts assert that most people "judge" whether they want to continue an encounter with another within the first five minutes. This is why the notion of "welcoming" is so critical. The first greeting, the first phone call, the first conversation goes a long way to laying a foundation for building a relationship.
"Engagement" is the next level of creating loyalty. Organizations that engage their people in meaningful participation have a much better chance of deepening the relationship between individuals and the group. This is why the megachurches place such an emphasis on getting people into small groups. If you can get someone connected to 5-7 others, they will feel a sense of relationship to the organization. In addition to "working for" the group, people seek friendships - others with whom they can share their journeys through life. Whether through volunteering or participating in events together, this engagement deepens the commitment and care people have for each other and for the group.
The third level of "loyalty" comes when individuals feel a sense of "ownership" of the organization. I often say that the best compliment clergy receive is when someone refers to her/him as "my rabbi." This is "my" congregation, "my" community, "my" group. This indicates that individuals see themselves as members of the group, recognize others as members of the group, and feel strongly that the group itself has an identity, offers meaning and purpose, and satisfaction from being part of it.
My favorite example of "ownership" is what happens in Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, when a wide receiver on the Packers catches a touchdown. He throws himself into the stands, the fans potch him on the tuches, and a wild celebration ensues. It's called "The Lambeau Leap" and it has special meaning to the people of Green Bay....because they own the team. The football team is the only team in professional sports literally owned by the people in the community. Talk about a sense of "ownership!" This is why I recommend to rabbis to get off the bimah and leap into the congregation...during a hakafah, while the service is underway....to get among the people.
As we develop our Next Dor programming, keep in mind that creating loyalty is important...not just loyalty to Next Dor, or to the congregation sponsoring Next Dor...but to Judaism itself. An effective spiritual community is one where there is warm welcome at the very first encounter, opportunities for engaging in meaninful and purposeful sacred work, and a significant sense of ownership among the people.
Shana tova u'metukah to all!