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The Importance of New Members Sermon

Sermon by Rabbi Melanie Aron

December 4, 2015

A number of years ago, well before we built this sanctuary, our congregation had some pretty intense discussions about new members. It was at the time when our growth had begun to pick up and we were changing from a small congregation where everyone knew everyone else, to something different.  At our board retreat that year, we had a debate about the wisdom of closing membership.

There were some prominent congregations, in LA area and on the East Coast, that our members were familiar with, that had decided to close membership on reaching what they considered an ideal size, 300 or 400 members. We made some phone calls and even visits to understand the pro’s and con’s of that approach.

Some of our board members objected to the exclusiveness of limiting membership. “We are not a country club”, I remember one board member saying. It felt to her that there was something anti-democratic and wrong about a synagogue not being open to all those who wanted to join.

We did some research on congregations that had closed their memberships. We found that they lost vitality and  energy. It was great to build lasting ties, but something was missing with no new faces in the mix.

It was almost like the prayer in Yizkor section of the old High Holiday prayer book which asks how we would respond to the opportunity to live forever but under the condition that there would be no new life: “never again would there be a child, or a youth, or first love, never again new persons with new hopes, new ideas, new achievements: ourselves for always and never any others” The prayer book responds to this offer, “Could the answer be in doubt?”

And in the end that was true of our congregation as well. We recognized the importance of new members (and new staff). They bring fresh eyes, seeing the things that we no longer noticed.  They have new needs and new ideas, and by their presence compel us to try new things. Further, we felt that it was not just the new members who added to the life of the congregation, but the new connections with our existing members, that shook things up.

We also realized that we were just a little bit evangelical. Not that we were going to stand out on street corners or ring doorbells for Judaism, but that we did believe in the value of what the synagogue had to offer our lives and we felt that it was a good to make that available to others as well. Choosing to be part of a chain of tradition, we also wanted to make that tradition available and accessible to others in our community.

This evening as we welcome the new members who have joined since our last new member service last fall, we welcome this opportunity to grow, not only in numbers, but in depth and meaning. We thank each of the new members for the gifts they are bringing to our community.

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