Young families, and young people in general, are a group that synagogues are having trouble attracting and keeping. While synagogues may have young families attending services, or enrolling children in their preschools, many young families defer joining until later in life, perhaps waiting for a child’s bar or bat mitzvah or to participate in adult High Holiday services. But membership fees can be a barrier for some.
At the 1,200-member Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Pikesville, executive director Glenn Easton said the synagogue has developed a new membership fee schedule to help eliminate financial barriers for young families who are already active at the shul but have hesitated to make the financial commitment of joining.
“We want to get the message out that finances should never be a barrier to affiliation. Most synagogues actually have 30 to 35 percent of their membership paying below what their normal category would be because synagogue membership is a significant commitment,” he said. “And it’s hard to get the message out that finances are never a barrier to membership or participation. So this is a way of getting that message out — encouraging and also acknowledging families who join the congregation at a younger age. Hopefully, it will increase our membership and eliminate the barriers.”
Less than half of Jews in Baltimore hold synagogue memberships, according to The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Study. The study also found that while cost is not a large barrier to synagogue membership for some, it is for households making less than $50,000 a year. Thirty-seven percent of those said that cost prevented them from joining a shul.
Under the new plan, membership fees will not increase for people as they age.
“So, you’re 30 years old and you’re a couple and your dues right now would be $820, that remains your membership contribution base for the remainder of your affiliation,” Easton said. “Except, for the 1 percent that it goes up occasionally, within the category. And that becomes your new membership dues expectation.”
Similarly, a 30-year-old single who wants to join would pay $490 annually, and that rate would not increase, except, as Easton notes, for occasional small percentage increases.
“We want to get the message out that finances should never be a barrier to affiliation.” — Glenn Easton, executive director of Chizuk Amuno Congregation
Under the old plan, that individual or family’s dues would increase to $725 and $1,260, respectively, for ages 31 to 36 and rise incrementally after that to age 43. Now, at whatever age people join, their membership dues will remain at that level.
Easton said the synagogue has a number of families who already attend but are not yet members and who may be interested in the prospect of lower fees over their lifetimes.
“We ran the idea past a number of younger people who are associated with the congregation, but who are not yet affiliated,” he said. “In our preschool, for instance, we have a number of unaffiliated families who tend to be younger, and they all love the idea.”
Easton said he has not heard any complaints from people who had, up until this point, been paying under the old dues structure.
“I think people recognize that there is a value to bringing new young families into the congregation earlier,” he said. “And I haven’t had anyone come up to me and say, ‘I’m really going to be upset or I’m paying X and someone else got a discount.’”
Easton said the synagogue has a goal in mind that it will re-evaluate after three years.
“What we’d like to do is double the number of young families that we have at the current time in those dues categories,” he said.
“Similar to investing in insurance with a lower-level premium when bought at a young age, we are inviting younger members to invest in our congregation to ensure the future of Judaism in our community,” congregation vice president Neil Leikach said in a prepared statement.