Getting Older Means Getting Smaller
Good shuls last for a long time, and as the Shul ages so does its membership. Unfortunately older members pass away or move as their needs change as their children leave the house. The older membership shrinks as time goes on.
The Empty Seat Syndrome
As a result of the shrinking older membership, Shuls that previously had hundreds of participants on a Shabbos can find their sanctuaries half empty. This creates some disillusionment among the members as they look around and long for their Shul’s former glory. It also creates financial strain since costs invariably rise as membership-based revenue increases, but it’s a lot harder to downsize the budget as membership-based revenue declines.
Just Add Younger Members
The obvious solution is to fill the empty seats with younger members. However, the young members have different plans. They’ve gone on to start their own shuls. They do this because they want to be with people their own age and they want some control of how things are run. Even if the older membership would cede control to the younger members, which is easier said than done, the younger members are usually not so excited about steering an older battleship.
Another solution, which is sometimes more successful, is breaking the Shul up into smaller minyanim. Different minyanim at different times in different parts of the Shul. The first problem with this solution is that the shul transforms from a community to a place to daven. The second problem is that few Shuls are willing to subdivide their glorious main sanctuary to accommodate downsizing, so the excess capacity and it’s accompanying costs remain.
Dare to Be Great
The ultimate solution is for the Rabbi and/or lay leadership to transform the Shul into a place for serious davening, inspiration, spiritual growth, intellectual challenge and strong communal support for all members. A place that attracts all ages with the amazing breadth and depth it has to offer.
Are We All Settling for Less?
The potential of Shuls is tremendous and perhaps we’re all just settling for a place to daven, a Daf Yomi shiur and a Shabbos drasha. A Shul can be so much more. In the future we hope to examine the characteristics of an incredible Shul and what are the practical small steps to move towards that goal.