The Role of the Rabbi in Increasing Shul Membership

Is The Rabbi Responsible for Increasing Membership
We received an email, a while back, from a reader who is a member of a small orthodox shul in a competitive Orthodox neighborhood. The Rabbi is a fantastic guy and a mensch of the first order, but he is not bringing people into the shul. The writer wants to know is this the expected role of the Rabbi, or is it more the role of the Board of Management?

Roles Go Beyond Initial Understandings
I think that the primary responsibility of increasing membership lies with the Officers and the Board. When a Shul hires a Rabbi, it is helpful to be explicit about what roles are expected including increasing membership. Even if not specified, helping to increase the membership of the Shul is usually in the best interest of both the Rabbi and the members. The question then becomes in which ways can the Rabbi help increase the membership.

Why Do People Become Members
To explore the question further we need to look at some of the reasons people become members:
1) They like the members of the Shul
2) The Rabbi answers their halachic and hashkafic questions
3) They like the davening and other services the Shul provides
4) The Shul is a convenient choice

How the Rabbi Can Help
Here’s how the Rabbi can help in each of these areas numbered above.
1) He should take the time to understand and relate to the membership’s particular needs. This will encourage more members in the existing categories to join the Shul.
2) He needs to be easily accessible for questions from the members. He needs to provide halachic and hashkafic answers appropriate for each individual. He needs to know when and what leniencies are appropriate.
3) He should make sure the davening is appropriate from the members in terms of quiet, speed and speeches. He needs to provide classes and find others to provide classes that are relevant to the members. He should encourage and work with the officers and the membership to increasingly provide appropriate services for the members.
4) He usually can’t do much about the Shul location, but he can make sure the times of davening are convenient for the members.

Different Roles in Different Communities
The ideas above are general and the needs and focus of a particular Shul and Rabbi depend on its location, needs and authority and financial structure.

Originally posted in February 2012