The Rise of The Growth Culture Shul

The Shul Transformation
You don’t have to be a certified trend spotter to notice that the Shul landscape in the larger Jewish communities has changed over the past 20 years. The major observation is the trend from larger Shuls to smaller Shuls. The smaller Shuls take three forms: Shteibel Shuls which are usually warm, Yeshivish Shuls with their quiet no frills davening and individual Torah learning, and the Growth Culture Shul which I’ll describe in this article.

The Growth Culture Shul
Although all types of Shuls have growth oriented individuals, The Growth Culture Shul consciously works on creating an environment where people have opportunities in the domains of Torah, Davening and Chesed. The tremendous benefit of such a Shul is that entire families absorb this orientation because it provides multiple avenues of Torah growth. It encourages increased connection to both Hashem and our fellow Jews.

The Rabbi and Lay Leadership
Growth orientation is a slam dunk for the Rabbi, because his mission statement is encouraging the spiritual growth of his congregants, but he must work with the lay leadership to create the culture of growth. As my Rav has said, a person over time is more influenced by what his neighbor in Shul is doing than by what the Rabbi is advising in his speeches. We more naturally compare ourselves to our peers then to our Rebbeim who we rightly put on a higher pedestal. So a culture of growth is the key to increasing the spiritual aspirations of the membership.

Growing the Culture
It should be clear that a growth culture is not achieved through pronouncement in a drasha or at a Shul membership meeting, but by gradual implementation of the programming and processes that create such a culture. This includes a multitude of Torah learning opportunities, a strong chesed committee, improving dignity, inspiration and concentration in davening, and creating a community and camaraderie among the members while simultaneously balancing Tzinus concerns.

The Growth Culture Shul takes more effort to create than the Shteibel or Yeshiva minyanim but it yields much greater benefits to the entire membership and their families. It’s built over time by creating an environment where the vast majority of the membership is working on growing in the three domains of Torah, Davening and Chesed.

6 thoughts on “The Rise of The Growth Culture Shul”

  1. Mark, I look forward to this series of postings.
    I’m guessing it really has to be a true partnership between the Rav and the lay leadership, as you wrote.

    1. I’m not exactly sure how you’re defining the term “true partnership”, but the participation of the membership in creating the growth culture is imperative. The Rabbi’s role will be partially determined by the activity of the membership and the amount of guidance they need.

  2. Here’s an example of one form of the Growth Culture Shul from a recent post by Rabbi Emanuel Feldman in Mishpacha via Cross Currents:

    “One of the most effective and successful rabbis I know is a living embodiment of this verse. He serves in a remote town with a small synagogue and tiny membership, but he devotes his entire life to his flock. He teaches: how to read Hebrew, how to study Chumash, how to practice mitzvos, how to daven, how best to serve Gd. He uplifts them, raises their sights to realize what it means to be a believing, learning, and practicing Jew. He is not well known, no one outside of his town has ever heard of him, but his personal example – and that of his wife – is on such a high level that they are a living sanctification of Gd’ s Name, and have brought countless people back to the joys of Torah life. I suspect that in the eyes of his Creator he is a very successful rabbi. But – surprise, surprise! – he failed to make Newsweek’s top fifty.”

    Read more:
    Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

    1. Micha, thanks for the examples. The Growth Culture Shul can take many forms as your examples illustrate. Perhaps others will point to more examples.

      I was talking about this on Shabbos and a friend pointed out that in his former large Shul, there was real resistance to a growth culture. The rallying cry was opposition to a move to the right. Although they were successful in stifling the growth culture that the Rav was trying to slowly introduce, my friend felt it contributed to negative population growth in the Shul in subsequent years.

  3. Hi Mark. I like the ideas which you’ve posted here. I plan to read this in depth and to comment as this topic goes on. thanks.

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