Early Engagement Strategies Bring Big Rewards
When we discuss connecting those interested in exploring Judaism we often forget two pieces of the conversation: financial restraints and starting with early engagement of young families. Recently, there has been a lot of conversation about relationship building before asking for financial support. For many congregations, this is a difficult matter as they struggle to pay their bills. Temple Beth Or (TBO), in Washington Township, NJ, developed a compromise to encourage early engagement of their young parents without the significant costs of a temple membership.
Temple Beth Or offered an early engagement program that included a special Shabbat service for young families and ongoing programming designed for those under five and their parents. Everything was designed to engage the little ones and provide social interaction time for their parents.
As with many congregations in the area, families did not have to join until their oldest child reached and was ready to enroll in third grade Hebrew school. Instead, families could enroll their child in grades K-2 and pay a surcharge. This caused some awkward moments and led to a reevaluation of the membership/religious school policy.
Realizing that the congregation wanted to embrace each family and engage them as early as possible, the decision was made that every family with a child enrolled in the religious school would be considered a member. If the oldest child was in grades K-2, your modest surcharge payment became your membership dues. When the oldest child started third grade, you moved up to a regular dues payment. The congregation began this program several years ago, with tremendous results. Best of all, they are now seeing that through concerted efforts to integrate these new families, the child(ren) and parents do become engaged in the congregation and view it as their home.
The congregation’s leaders felt it was important to show that they were not just about money, but rather that each member was a precious part of the congregational family. That message has been received. One of these parents recently wrote:
This is why TBO attracted us:
- The generous offering to make membership complimentary if the children attend religious school for K, 1st and 2nd grades was very welcoming and wise
- It is very attractive for this offer to be in place given factors such as
- [New] parents getting used to supporting a family
- the economic downturn across the last few years
- for families who choose to send their kids to the public schools, it is a financial relief to get past paying for Jewish nursery and pre-K tuitions, and save money for a few years before starting to pay annual temple membership fees
- It gives parents the joy of giving their kids a religious affiliation without the financial piece being a potential barrier for that initial year or so. Many friends in other communities speak of how they would love nothing more than to join a temple but cannot afford it, so they put it off until the Bar/Bat Mitzvah years. Meanwhile, these young children’s calendars get filled up with sports and art classes. That energy for “extra-curricular activities” could include a temple affiliation that exposes young children to spirituality, acts of loving kindness and tzedakah at a young age. It is smart that TBO does not let the financial barrier keep families of young kids unaffiliated with the temple. The affiliation with TBO will shape and strengthen these children’s Jewish identity—and they will hopefully go on to be lifelong members.
We encourage you to look at your early engagement programs as vehicles for welcoming, removing as many barriers as possible.