Shul Things That Don’t Scale

Scaling is a term popularized in the tech startup world*. The concept is that a small group of about 3 designers and developers create a product and try to get in in the hands of a small group of between 100 to 1000 users. The developers iterate a few releases of the product based on user feedback and usage metrics. When they feel that they have a product that users love, they try to scale it to a much large group via sales, marketing, and business development.

For Shuls, scaling would consist of taking an experience that some people find valuable and getting more Shul members to participate. However there are a number Shul things that don’t scale well – and that’s ok.

One example is the small kiddush after davening. A dozen or so people get together around a table over some schnaps and chips. They shmooze for 30 minutes or so, often with a short dvar Torah. Over time deeper connections are built among the members of this group. It works because it’s small and consists of longer uninterrupted conversations with a small group of people. The larger Shul kiddush and Shalosh Seudis is also valuable for conversation and connection, but the intimacy of the small kiddush gives it certain connection advantages.

Another thing that usually doesn’t scale are shiurim. For in-depth shiurim, you need a certain level of knowledge and the desire and ability to focus for 45 minutes or so. A majority of people will not meet these criteria for various reason, but those participating receive a lot of benefit from the in-depth learning. A daily Daf Yomi shiur, which is often supplemented by Art Scroll, and trades-off depth for breadth, will usually not get a Shul majority. People often chose the options of learning with a chavrusa or by themselves. Nevertheless, weekly or daily shiurim are extremely valuable for those that do participate.

A third thing that doesn’t scale is a Shul social event, whether it be a picnic, a Melava Malka, or other special event. People have differing schedules and a specific time will usually not work for a number of people. Secondly, different people have different social appetities and social events are not appealing to all members. But once again, they are very valuable for those who do participate.

I think the takeaway is that although number of participants is an important metric, it is clearly not the only one, and might not even be the most important one.

* In a classic article by one of the most knowledgeable startup investors, Paul Graham suggests that startups Do Things That Don’t Scale