As Ben Zoma taught: “Who is wise? The one who learns from everyone.” – Talmud, Pirkei Avot 4:1
Last week, I attended a Christian event at a Megachurch. It was incredible. I was blown away by the level of expertise, hospitality, and overall positivity of the experience. I left the conference feeling inspired and hopeful.
Why does a nice Jewish girl like me go to a conference on spreading the love of Jesus?
I’m anxious about the Jewish future and highly motivated to improve my ability to positively impact its trajectory. Therefore, I stepped out of my Jewish bubble (i.e comfort zone) to learn from a faith community I admire.
Jewish communal engagement is plummeting and I worry about Jewish continuity.
When I worry, I seek information to soothe myself (not too dissimilar to the way that my three year old sucks her thumb for comfort). I conduct research to discover ways that I can amplify my impact in supporting the development of Jewish identities and communities. I peer outside of the Jewish world to find models that promote significant resources to attract, engage and educate families with children including Music Together, Tinkergarten, MuslimKidsTV, Disneyworld, and a diverse set of religious institutions. My niche is tiny- the body of research and pool of experiences that can teach me about how to serve my audience is enormous.
I’ve served Jewish early childhood communities for two decades- but I’ve never seen anything like the curricular resources Orange Kids provides. They offer a comprehensive solution for churches and their leaders to nurture the next generation. I followed their social, rocked out to some of their kids’ worship tracks (I wish I wrote Making Waves), and resolved to attain a keener understanding of this inspirational institution so that I could apply those lessons to my work with the Jewish community.
I’m following our sage Ben Zoma’s Talmudic advice to learn from everyone.
Orange facilitates a variety of personal and professional development options, including a national tour by their executive leadership to provide a “one day ministry training event for leaders and volunteers.” I decided to follow my nerdy bliss, take a cue from my Montessori mindset, and immerse myself in their environment and I’m SO grateful that I did.
The physical environment manufactured safety & security.
I particularly appreciated the beautiful, branded signage that addressed common parental concerns. The space was clearly designed with the needs of specific age groups in mind- there was clear evidence that the church prepared for the arrival of babies, toddlers, and children.
The Conference programming conjured social capital.
A thematic question emerged throughout the large group sessions:: “Who is in the room”? The session facilitator asked individuals to stand to identify themselves if they identified with particular cues like:
- Who has been serving kids for over 10 years? 20? 30?…(the most veteran leader had been serving for 50+ years)
- Who goes to a different denomination than they did as a child?
- Who grew up in a church where dancing was a part of the service? Who grew up in a church where dancing was a sin?
These prompts gave clear data that highlighted shared experiences and concerns to everyone in the room.
Members of different denominations of Christianity were asked to stand up and identify themselves- and then thanked for their particular contributions to The Church. It was brilliant. The validation and appreciation this community offered those few church leaders at small churches who don’t have the same resources was immense (it felt like a real world version of the constructive commiseration we revel in with Rogue Shul).
Music fostered connection, context, and harmony.
Jewish professionals, let’s consider traveling with DJs. As we trickled into the ‘auditorium’ (I was surprised that it wasn’t called a ‘sanctuary’), the vibe was carefully curated by “DJ JR”. I learned he travels on tour with the executive leadership. Conference participants were invited to personalize their experience by making song requisitions via text message.
Musical moments were integrated throughout the day.
DJ JR played a mix of worship music and popular music and used sound effects, rhythm, and movement throughout the day to communicate flow and control the energy. The opening speaker and DJ had clearly scripted and choreographed the opening address and it was extremely entertaining. For example- she mentioned Esther saving the Jewish people and paused for the DJ to play a few seconds of the Beyonce song “Who Run The World? (Girls)” to communicate context and invite engagement.
10/10, I recommend that my colleagues seek inspiration from diverse communities of faith.
I’m a product of growing up in Marietta, GA and I had many opportunities to be a fly on the wall during church centered programs of some variety. Chaverim (friends), go out and get yourself some experiential professional development. Go to other houses of worship, attend any show Disney produces, or indulge in a Taylor Swift concert. Once, when I was in Texas playing a gig at the Houston JCC, I saw a billboard that Joel Osteen would preach that evening at Lakewood Church. I went to check it out and it was an incredibly enriching experience (I got to meet him!). Find your flavor of inspiration and carefully observe people and institutions who accomplish admirable goals who serve your audience.
There is terrific value in intrafaith collaboration.
During the concluding remarks, Founder and CEO Reggie Joiner charged his troops to work with other churches in their community and to partner with local public schools to support their efforts. He was very deliberate and simple in his directions- we must love our neighbors and show our communities that we love them because “how your church sees other churches will determine how a generation sees The Church”.
When families see us working with or praising neighboring synagogues or their programs, it can elevate their view of the entire Jewish community and desire to be engaged.
Reggie engaged an audience member and asked her to identify her specific geographic location. Once she stated her church and suburb, he asked the crowd if anyone else was from the same suburb. Two other churches “whooped” to identify themselves. Then, he pulled $300 cash out of his pocket and gave it to the audience member, asking her to take the leadership teams of all three local churches (who did not know each other) out for a shared meal. He seemed confident that they would identify potential strategic partnerships and asked us to imagine the impact of the members of each of their churches learning that their leadership works together.
It’s not just us. Across the board- religious affiliation is down.
I found myself feeling soothed as I heard ministry leaders describe the drop in participation they have continued to experience since the pandemic. People are ‘back’ but the next normal is still emerging. Our entire world is experiencing what Springtide Research Institute has described as a ‘crisis of connection’.
Communities of faith are uniquely poised to offer families a holistic solution to address this crisis.
What worked before isn’t working anymore. The needs of our families have evolved- and our institutional goals must reflect that we are working to understand and meet those needs.
The needs of contemporary families are different than what they used to be and the onus to figure out what they are and how we can serve them is Jewish leadership. I appreciated my breakout session on What Parents Aren’t Telling You, a research project to explore perspectives from both “committed christian” and “general population” American parents regarding what they want, fear, and feel and from where they seek help. BTW I researched the wants and needs of the parents of 0-8 year olds in my dissertation, so you can read my research Exploring Tot Shabbat: A Study on Tot Shabbat Programs and Their Effects on the Engagement in Jewish Life of Families with Young Children as a first step in this direction!
In order to do better for the next generation than past generations have been able to do for the previous ones, we need to take serious strides to better understand the specific needs and wants of the families we serve.
Authentic love of Jesus is an incredible motivator. What is your why?
People who act with sacred intent and intrinsic motivation typically impact their community. One of the things I admire about many of my Christian colleagues is the ease with which they can identify their core purpose and higher poweredness. To be excellent, one must be able to identify your purpose and your goals. What motivates you?
The Talmud inspired me to go to a Church conference and I’m definitely wiser.
I am so grateful for the depth and breadth of our sacred texts and traditions- this particular passage resonates with me deeply as it is an incredibly intuitive ancient assertion that has proven resoundingly true.
This particular passage is a foundational element of my Jewish identity and that has served me well. I literally wrote a song about it- Do You Want to Be Smart by Miss Emily:
Do you want to be smart? Yes, I want to be smart.
Do you want to be wise? Yes, I want to be wise.
Do you think learning is fun? Yes, learning IS fun.
Then learn from everyone! Learn from everyone!
Just ask a teacher,
How do you learn each day
To help all your kiddos?
She’ll say her students show her the way!
Just ask a new mommy,
Who teaches her right now
To take care of her child?
She’ll say her baby shows her how!
Just ask your rabbis
How the ideas get in their mind.
They’ll say their inspirations
Come from many things of different kinds.
If you could ask a baby
How they learn so much,
They’d tell you they learn something
From everything they touch!
Eizehu, Eizehu-Miss Emily, Do You Want To Be Smart? from album Good Choices, Volume 2
M’kol Adam M’kol Adam
If you and your community are looking for support as you attract and sustain an intergenerational audience, let’s talk!