Reaching Out to the Unaffiliated
Rabbi Steven E. Foster
Clergy who serve "on the front lines" in congregations are charged with developing programs to reach out to the unaffiliated and bring more of them into the religious fold. These outreach efforts cannot be conceived in a vacuum, but must be rooted in a clear understanding of the unaffiliated, the target audience. This chapter describes, from the rabbi's perspective, the motivations that impel individuals and families to affiliate with a synagogue at some times in their fives and to drop out at other times. Structures and programs for helping people successfully cross the threshold into synagogue membership and remain an active part of the congregation must be designed with these motivations in mind.
The chapter next presents an outreach program created in response to a contemporary issue in the Jewish community--a high and increasing rate of intermarriage. Although this outreach program is concerned with a specific subpopulation (intermarried families), the principles underlying it have general relevance for the practical side of congregational growth, as they inform the specific actions that can be taken to reach out to the unaffiliated.
The 1990 National Jewish Population Survey 1 (NJPS) shows that synagogue affiliation rates vary significantly by region of the country, age, length of time in the community, income, maturity of family, and years of Jewish education ( Tobin & Berger, 1993). Regardless of how they are analyzed, the data consistently show that only a minority of Jewish households