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Planning for Change: Dollars and Sense

Planning is one of the most important functions in synagogue life, and yet it is one that is rarely addressed in a systematic way that promotes community building. Once we have understood and clarified our values, and created a mission statement that embodies them, we then look to create a plan to fulfill that mission.

The planning process is the framework within which policies are formed, budget and fundraising goals are set, and staff needs are projected. Planning focuses on the kinds of programs and services the congregation will be called upon to provide in the future. It necessitates a change in perspective on the part of the community. A great deal of trust is required in order for the planning process to be successful. A good long range plan can provide a clear direction for a community seeking growth, while at the same time trying to preserve those aspects of its program that it values most highly.

Planning is vital to managing growth. Most synagogue communities want to grow in ways that do not compromise or sacrifice their reasons for coming together to form a Jewish community. Growth brings greater diversity, additional resources, and more participation into the community. Growth also necessitates change. It challenges intimacy and strains preexisting capacities. Many Reconstructionist communities struggle with growth management. Planning is the most effective antidote in reducing the stress, fear and uncertainty when dealing with issues of growth.

The planning process will not take half a year. The planning process is most likely a several-year commitment. The planning process is not an insurance against crisis nor is it a guarantee. Planning for change means working with the variables in congregational life and anticipating future needs or goals.

Without an ongoing process of planning that is accepted and understood by the leadership, the synagogue tends to govern itself through "crisis management." Thus decisions and polices are made in a time crunch and are often spurred by "real life" crises. The community is not afforded the opportunity to take time to make decisions or to think of issues in the abstract instead of the personal.

Another important aspect of planning is the determination of communal staffing needs, both professional and clerical. A strategic plan can be helpful for congregations examining the need for an executive director or increasing the rabbinic presence from part-time to full-time. A values-based approach to staffing must also include fair remuneration and responsible employee benefits packages. It is best to keep money off the table at first and dream big, then refine the plan. The object of a plan such as this is not to meet a crisis now, but foresee the needs of the future now!

Some important questions to ask at this stage are:

  • Who will lead the process and do the research?

  • Can they lead positively and without division?

  • Are the planners actually empowered to plan or will it be a make-work project that the community, board, rabbi, and other key staff have not bought into?

  • Who is defining the needs? What are the "felt" needs and what are the practical needs? What buttons will be pushed and need to be handled with sensitively? What buttons need to be pushed for the health of the community's future?

  • How will the communications be organized and delivered throughout? (e.g. town hall or parlor meetings, newsletter and electronic communications, planning group retreats, community questionnaires)

  • Which programs will be explored?

  • What are our priorities, who and how do we decide priorities?

  • How do we evaluate our programs?

  • How do we make hiring decisions?

  • What would you most like/not like to see happen in the future?

  • Have you factored into the plan the need to re-evaluate and assess how the plan is affecting the community, and how to manage shifting expectations once you go from wanting something to realizing it (planning for success)?

  • What will you pay for and what will you keep as volunteer time? Do you want volunteers moving chairs and stuffing envelopes? Learning to give a dvar torah and develop policy?

  • What will be the effects on the various aspects of the congregational system (e.g. Hebrew school, ritual life and needs, staffing, physical plant, finances, programming, membership, etc.) if our plan is successful?

The planning process incorporates more than establishing a committee for its development. Ideally the following steps should be discussed:

  • A pre-planning stage

  • Self-evaluation: a description and evaluation of the current status of the synagogue.

  • Development of the plan in a group or committee that represents a cross-section of age, class, gender, sexual orientation, family structure, length of membership and other membership variables.

  • Implementing the plan: A values-based approach to staffing must also include fair remuneration and a responsible employee benefits packages.

  • Ongoing review of the plan's effectiveness with measurable goals

In this section consider the following issues through the study of theoretical documents and already existing congregational plans:

  • The life cycle of the synagogue

  • Stages of congregational growth

  • What is a strategic planning process?

  • How to begin a strategic planning process

  • How to execute a strategic planning process

  • Who to include on a strategic planning committee

  • Examples of Reconstructionist long-range plans


Planning should be vision-driven, based on the mission of the community and supported by covenantal governing documents. In a participatory democratic culture, the community simultaneously shapes and reflects their values. Planning should have its foundation and take into consideration these dynamics.

Type: How to

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