Eight Ways Your Congregation Can Be More Welcoming for the High Holidays
The High Holidays are a special time in the Jewish calendar, a time when many unaffiliated Jews (those who are not members of a congregation) may feel the need to connect to the broader Jewish community. Even if they don’t attend synagogue throughout the year, the High Holidays may inspire these individuals and their families to find a congregation where they can attend services or special holiday programming.
There are several ways to leverage your congregation’s communications tools and human resources to make your synagogue more welcoming to unaffiliated Jews, especially leading up to the High Holidays.
- Post information about High Holiday opportunities on your homepage.
While web users’ behaviors are highly variable, most of them are in a hurry. Realistically, users will read about 20% of the text on the average page. Naturally, they’re more likely to view information if it appears on the homepage than if they have to search through your website to find it. Make things easy on them: Let them know, as soon as they arrive at your congregation’s website, that non-members are welcome at services during the High Holidays.
- Post information on the website itself, never as an attachment or PDF.
Users are easily confused when websites link them to documents that offer a significantly different user experience than that of browsing web pages – and most users don’t view a PDF file as being the same environment as a website. To avoid confusion and make sure visitors see details of your High Holidays events, post them as text on your website.
- Clearly list all event dates, price ranges, and congregational contacts.
According to web user behavioral studies, the first 10 seconds of the page visit are critical in users’ decision to stay or leave. If your website lists pertinent information in a clear manner that immediately attracts viewers’ attention, you significantly increase the chances that they will see it. If users need to dig deep to find all these details, they are likely to give up and leave your site. Additionally, individuals and families who are unaffiliated with a synagogue may also feel sensitive about speaking in person about ticket prices and information, especially if they are on a tight budget. Listing event information and pricing clearly on your synagogue’s website will help them understand if your services and events are a potential fit for them.
- Website copy should be warm and inviting.
Those who are not yet members of your community may feel apprehensive and even anxious about approaching a congregation, even if they are looking to belong to a community. Make sure that the language you use makes those visiting your website feel as though they are being welcomed with open arms.
- Clearly identify special opportunities for specific target audiences.
Families with young children, seniors, young adults, and other specific audiences may be more inclined to contact you if they know you offer special events or different pricing options for them. If your congregation doesn’t turn anyone away based on finances, list this information, as well. Unaffiliated individuals may see your ticket prices and assume you would not be able to accommodate them if they cannot afford it. Let them know that they can be welcomed into the Jewish community even if their budget is tight; it may encourage them to pick up the phone and learn about their options.
- Ensure that anyone who answers the phone at your congregation knows of opportunities for the unaffiliated and responds to inquiries in a warm, welcoming manner.
The person responding to phone calls will likely provide the first impression of your congregation for those calling to ask about your services. It’s crucial that this person be welcoming, as his or her tone can create either a gateway into or barrier from your congregation.
- On the day of High Holidays programming, appoint volunteers to serve as greeters.
The High Holidays will likely mark the first time that unaffiliated individuals visit your congregation, and placing greeters at the door will help them with far more than just navigation. A friendly face to greet them creates a personal connection that can help foster a sense of belonging.
- Follow up with those who attend your services or programs.
Some of those who visit your congregation during the High Holidays season won’t be seeking further engagement, but don’t assume this is the case for everyone. Make a list of all non-members who attended your High Holiday events, and assign someone friendly to follow-up with them. You can call them to wish them “Shana Tovah,” ask them about their experience at your synagogue, and invite them to upcoming events and services. Be proactive, and don’t wait for them to contact you!