Rabbi Todd Chizner noted that “people are leaving their churches and synagogues in record numbers” and suggested that religion could reverse its popularity decline with “changes to reflect the needs of modern peoples’ lives.” (Feb. 14 2014).
These included, “offering different times for worship, more singing and briefer sermons.” He further suggested that “religious leaders have to be open to hearing, and whenever possible implement, new ways to offer faith….“
A 2013 Pew survey confirmed the rabbi’s concern. When asked, “How important is religion in your life?” 69 percent of Christians and 31 percent of Jews responded, “Very important.” Similar percentages reported attending religious services at least monthly; 62 and 29 percent respectively.
But among Jews, the percentages that attended services at least monthly were 74 percent for orthodox Jews, 39 percent for conservative and 17 percent for reform.
With respect to “offering different times for worship:” I am a member of a small Orthodox synagogue of fewer than 100 families. On weekday mornings over 20 people regularly attend a 6:30 am service.
During Hurricane Sandy we lost electricity and heat for four days but flashlights were distributed and services were still held twice daily with none cancelled.
With respect to sermons, our rabbi gives more lengthy sermons only twice annually – on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. On Sabbath he gives brief talks between Torah readings on how the reading relates to our lives. On weekdays he gives brief talks on aspects of Halakha/religious law.
Congregants ask questions or make comments as in a classroom.
Occasionally teenagers give talks on religious topics. Members, including teens, regularly lead services and read from the Torah.
Evidently the difference in attendance and zeal is not due to schedules or sermons. It is more likely due to the importance of religion to the congregants as well as to the relevance of services to their lives.
These qualities are reinforced by the nature of the services as they are.
Perhaps rabbi Chizner should entertain the possibility that what is required is not “new ways to offer faith” but a connection to “old ways;” ways that have proven successful for millennia.