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Strategies for Creating a Welcoming Environment

by the Coalition of Innovating Congregations
The following are ideas contributed by many members of the Coalition during Ron Wolfson's workshop at the 2-Day Summer Institute: “What are You Doing to Build Relationships?”  These are just a few ways we can all make our congregations into more welcoming places.  What have you tried in your congregation?  What strategies would you add to this list?  Add your ideas in the comments!
 Provide opportunities for congregants to share their stories

  • Create and share a book with families’ stories
  • Tell the story about whom you are saying Kaddish 

Engage the Parents as Partners

  • During class time, parents come in for coffee/bagels and schmoozing
  • During school hours, offer adult education based on participants’ needs and interests
  • Send personal Invitations to parents to attend Hebrew school and Shabbat programming
  • Increase communication with parents
  • Parent-organized breakfast rotation on Sunday mornings
  • Reach out to parents using outside contexts…”I saw your kid in the paper and wanted to say mazel tov!”
Connect Families to Each Other

  • Create Ambassador Program 
  • Offering parent/child learning together with other families
  • Offer Congregational/group/immersive experiences (tikkun olam, Israel) home meetings/meals/Seuda Shlishit, Shabbat.
  • Hold a wine and cheese parlor meeting w/connection piece, allowing people to express their opinions and stories
  • BBQ-prospective/new member gatherings

Matching/Chavurah/Buddy Programs

  • Create affinity groups for socializing, worship, learning, and more.
  • Create a Haverim Program- buddy up older and younger students in many ways throughout the year
  • Establish a mentorship program (outside of synagogue around Shabbat in the home)
  • Pair a new family with a family with children of a similar age
  • Buddy up current and new families
  • Train Mentors to help others who are uncomfortable with their Judaism and/or who have questions
  • Put friends together.  “Looping” – building relationships between students and teachers who “travel” together for years 

Create Community for our Students

  • Include regular ice breakers in Religious School
  • Grade level retreats (off-site/shul ins)
  • Provide youth with time/space to hang out
  • Check Ins- Giving students chance to reconnect each week with highlights , things to share
  • Jewish teens for justice-connects teens, meaningful trips, experiences, social connections that exist outside of the social action programs
  • Inviting teens with skills to lead Tefilah for younger kids
  • The Green Team (5th, 6th, 7th graders ) to repair earth
  • Hevruta in classes
  • Classroom brit- written together; ongoing comments of examples of kavod written/added by students
  • Recognizing positive interactions
  • Think about the physical layout of room-groupings (no one sits alone)
  • Raising their self awareness needs attention-add more reflection to discussions- what their impact is/can be on others
  • Create a Safe space for conversation and sharing
  • Shared meals (dinner at school 1 night/month?)
  • Make curriculum content secondary-give kids/families chance to bond
  • Start classes and programs with a connection questions
  • Card with safe #’s and hotline #’s (Ron said so! It gives it weight!) 

Use Multi-media

  • Utilize Facebook
  • Create Website with photos of people
  • Create Facebook group for alumni of religious school

Making time to Greet People

  • Greeting at the front door and a proper greeting too
  • Director/Rabbi greets kids with on-time raffles
  • Honor those who create a welcoming atmosphere
  • Greeting people at the beginning of school

Staff (clergy and educators) Creates New Opportunities for Relationship Building

  • Rabbi hosts families who have commonalities
  • Adding staff so people can see working together and also display differences in Jewish identity
  • Personal invites to conversation (call or email, schedule time to meet.)
  • “Rabbi’s Tish” in congregants’ homes
  • Have 2-3 breakfasts per day with congregants
  • Individual meetings with parents and families, especially new families and B’nai Mitzvah families
  • Hire someone do administrative work so we can free ourselves to be with other people
  • Go sit with people at services who are there for the first time, and at Kiddush
  • Coffee dates with parents/members offsite
  • Personalized connections (following through, calls, e-mails, coffee)
  • Personal invitations to families to sit down and check in
  • Meeting one on one with parents to probe way they might get involved
  • Focus group (5 families) who have been attending family services then focus group with 7th graders.
  •  Welcoming special needs families
  • Find opportunities to ASK people or INVITE people to do things
  • Havdallah event at Rabbi’s home with targeted  affinity groups (with very good friend)
  • Phone call from rabbi/educator if kids don’t enroll in 8th grade
  • Changes the focus of staff meetings to relationships and spend at least 50% of meetings talking about congregants
  • Introduce and give gift subscription to PJ library
  • Mentoring parents/building playdate relationships with parents and families
  • Helping teachers how to understand what families are experiencing.
  • Five phone calls per day to ill congregants
  • Welcoming new families

Strengthen the Staff Relationships

  • 3 hour kayaking trip with staff.
  • Community Building Day for all staff/lay leaders and clergy.

Sharing Communal/Holiday Events

  • Brings temple community together on Shabbat
  • Shabbat experience in people’s homes
  • Building Sukkah and eating inside
  • Progressive dinner with different congregants- all meet at temple for desert and Tefillah
  • Invite members to outside community events
  • FOOD is social- i.e meet at Starbucks
  • Get out of building- people’s homes

Create Intergenerational Programming

  • Intergenerational programming
  • Sunday-multigenerational program, Bubbies &Zaddies, in school 

Family Education

  • Half of school time doing family education every year
  • Family engagement weekly at high school

Engaging “Programs” & Other Ideas

  • Prayer service with dance, song holding hands-e.g before the Torah is brought up
  • Using pop culture
  • Earning “points” for engagement in community
  • Name tags
  • Take trips that focus on social action together
  • Streaming services
  • Providing Shabbat transportation
  • Working to get people more involved through volunteer leaders
  • Regular Torah study with opportunities to share
  • One back to school night for ECE & RS (link silos)
  • Create programs to welcome in day school families 
  • Share research to push it forward
  • Congregation- Based Jewish Organizing/Social Action
  • PACT (Parents & Children Together) w/ Rabbi 
  • Shalom Baby
  • Mitzvah Garden
  • Sharing Simchas at Services

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