In early 21st Century America, many synagogues are struggling, and signs point to intensifying struggles down the road. A variety of demographic changes—some uniquely Jewish and some that are affecting most American religious communities—are putting pressure on the organizational models and traditional content offerings of American synagogues. Synagogue affiliation is decreasing among American Jews, and there is reason to be concerned that less active synagogue-affiliated individuals and families will drift away from synagogue affiliation in the coming years.
At the same time, survey data indicates that the vast majority of Jews, whether synagogue-affiliated or not, express pride in being Jewish and consider being Jewish an important dimension of their lives. Over the last two decades, we have seen the growth of an energetic “innovation sector,” mostly dominated by startup organizations, some of which are now maturing; these organizations have been able to win the participation of many Jews who were not joining synagogues.
Can synagogues develop innovations—that is, new approaches and programs that are substantially different from their existing offerings—that can attract the kinds of Jews who have been attracted to these startups (and others whose needs weren’t met by them)?
What SPARK Is
SPARK: A Fellowship To Ignite Synagogue Innovation is a 12-month program that will guide synagogue leaders through a process of thinking through likely-to-succeed innovations, testing their ideas through relatively low-stakes and low-cost prototypes, and learning to manage the inevitable resistance to change that will arise.
What It Involves
- 2 in-person daylong gatherings in NYC, in February and April, will present concepts, provide skill building and opportunities to workshop learning as it applies to your synagogue.
- A two-day (not overnight) design thinking workshop in June to develop the innovation prototype.
- Coaching in change management, through the implementation stage
- Opportunity to apply for a grant to fund the innovation you design
- SPARK Sharefest, late fall 2018, will showcase innovations, learnings and failings from the Fellowship