Growing Your Shul With Torah Learning – Part 1

Learning Torah is the Foundation of Growth
As was mentioned in a previous post, a Growth Culture Shul benefits the members and their families by providing multiple avenues of growth. This includes learning Torah, davening, performance of Mitzvos, Chesed, and creating connections between members. Learning Torah is The foundation of growth because the Torah defines and maps out the growth path of Jews in all areas.

Running Successful Education Programs
When starting a program it’s important to consider:
1) The goals of the program. Are you looking to increase the breadth, depth or frequency of member’s learning?
2) What attendance figure would be considered a success. For a scholar-in-residence, 30 people might be the target, depending on the size of the shul, while a week night Machshava chabura would be a success with even 3-4 people attending.
3) Whether the goals and attendance are achievable. The overall goal is to increase member’s breadth, depth and frequency in learning, and we need to consider attendance because teaching resources are usually limited.

Programs need to be constantly re-evaluated and re-formulated to meet the needs of the members.

Shabbos Day Programming
In our times, people lead busy lives and Shabbos is the one day where there is extra time to learn. Here are some Shabbos programming ideas:

Friday Night Parsha – in the winter months when Shabbos starts early, some people want to use that time to attend a parsha shiur. It’s also a good opportunity to allow members to prepare and give a shiur. The main caveats are that people: are often tired, want to spend time with their family, or may have trouble staying awake at the shiur. Combining the shiur with an oneg can help boost attendance.

Shabbos Morning Parsha – before davening on Shabbos is a good time for a parsha Shiur. Since it entails getting up early, it’s helpful to have a strong teacher giving this Shiur.

The Rabbi’s Drasha – in the growth oriented Shul, the Shabbos drasha is a must. Although the Rabbi needs discretion in terms of the length, topics and style, I believe most Rabbis appreciate feedback from the membership.

After Davening Kiddush and Shiur – if you have the facilities for a sit-down kiddush, this is a great opportunity for a short shiur. Some shuls do this every week and even if that doesn’t work for your Shul, it might be worth trying every few months.

Before Mincha Shiur – after the afternoon nap, this is a good time to give a deeper shiur. Many shuls have an in-depth halacha or gemora shiur in this time slot.

Shalosh Seudos – after allowing time for some eating, shmoozing and singing, this is a great time for a short shiur. If your Rabbi is up for it, some shuls have had great success with an “Ask the Rabbi” session where the floor is open for any questions for the Rabbi. As long as the Rav is comfortable giving an occasional “I don’t know, let me think about”, it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn and increase the bond between the Rabbi and the membership.

Pirkei Avos Shiur – in the longer summer months, you might want to consider having an early 6:00 PM Mincha, with Shalosh Seudos at home and then returning to the shul 30 minutes before Maariv for Pirkei Avos. The topics in Pirkei Avos are interesting for a wide audience and it can provide people other than the Rav an opportunity to give a Shiur.

Parent-Child Learning – in the fall and winter months, this is a great opportunity to bring the members and the children back to shul for some more learning. The program is usually accompanied by pizza or some other food and sometimes prizes are raffled off. Some Shuls do Parent-Child learning after an early Mincha during the long Summer days.

Melava Malkas – in the fall and winter months, this is a great way to combine a social event with Torah learning. The program usually needs an organizer to deal with the logistics of hosting, providing food and getting speakers, but the fruits of such efforts are usually greatly appreciated by the members.

A Growth oriented Shul should provide a strong learning program. Above are some thoughts about Shabbos Programming, a time when many more people have the opportunity to participate. Next week we’ll look at weekday and special events learning programs.