My rabbi shared an article from the CCAR Journal (published by the Reform Rabbinate) by my teacher Isa Aron, Steven M. Cohen, Lawrence Hoffman and Ari Y. Kelman called Functional and Visionary Congregations. It is a precis of a book coming out later this year from Jewish Lights, and it explores different approaches to what a congregation is and does.
In very simplistic terms, a functional congregation is one that focuses on servicing specific needs of members. The appraoch might seem consumerist (although that is a reduction). It is kind of like a synagogue as Wal-Mart. Jewish Education for children in aisle 15, Shabbat worship in aisle 22, senior programming in aisle 3, etc. It leads, they indicate, to a passivity among the members and a heavy reliance on staff to cater to their needs. It is very easy to leave a functional congregation. Just put your Bar/Bat Mitzvah certificate in the car and drive away.
A visionary congregation is different. Sure, it meets the specific needs of its members. It's focus however is on providing more than discrete products to meet the needs of the moment. It strives to make the members embrace theri own role in a Kehillah Kedoshah, a sacred community. It makes demands of the members beyond the financial. It sets up expectations for individuals and families, young and old, to engage in the life of the congregation and to advance in their own spiritual journeys.
I am being overly simplistic. I recommend the article and I expect to like the book as well.
My rabbi shared the article first with the senior staff and then with the Board of Trustees of our congregation so that we could use it as a lens for self-examination. The study is ongoing. My initial sense is that on the spectrum from functionary to visionary, we are more visionary than functional, but we have a lot of room for expanding the vision, both in terms of how we do what we do and in whom reach and how deeply.
I am fascinated by the metaphor and my teachers and I are going to use this lens as well. A version of the article is at http://www.ujafedny.org/atf/cf/%7Bad848866-09c4-482c-9277-51a5d9cd6246%7D/SYNERGY%20NL%20FALL%2008.PDF, in a publication of the UJA Federation of New York. I would love to hear from anyone reading this blog what you think of the concept, and more importantly, how a synagogue school might use it.