With national surveys continuing to chart a decline in weekly attendance at worship, a trend exacerbated by the pandemic, houses of worship may need new metrics to measure success. This week’s clergy discuss how growth can be gauged beyond the number of faithful filling the pews.
The Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter
Pastor, Congregational Church of Patchogue
Except for 15 of our congregation’s 230 years, the written or implicit definition of church growth was adding members to increase our membership, financial and operational stability. Acknowledging the precipitous decline of all major institutions of faith, we have revisited many of our assumptions about growth and belonging, to extend far beyond the walls of the church.
Half of the people attend Sunday services online. Most of our growth is among people who have never entered the building or even wholly identify as Christian but who find spiritual growth through their support of, and identification with, our church’s inclusivity and outreach. Jewish people have joined our church.
Hundreds of people eagerly attend spiritual events, but not Sunday services. We are known more by what we do than what we say. People want to be a part of offering help, hope and healing to the community. In so doing, they too are helped. Our free barber salon, showers and feeding programs are fully funded by people outside of our church. Perhaps without knowing it, they are fulfilling many of the teachings of our faith. Thus, part of our congregation’s growth is seeing ourselves as others see us.
Faroque A. Khan
Chairman, Interfaith Institute of Long Island, Jericho
I feel blessed to have been associated with the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury since its humble beginnings in 1984. The campus has grown in response to the diverse needs of the growing Muslim community, and it provides all required services for Muslims, from birth to death. In 2015, the center launched the Interfaith Institute of Long Island to dispel misconceptions about Islam and promote understanding among different faiths.
While much has been accomplished, there is always room for improvement both within and outside the Muslim community. Among the milestones I would use to measure the growth of the Islamic Center in 2023 are expanding and improving the interaction and collaboration between the indigenous Muslim and immigrant communities and enhancing the digital library at our campus to serve as a resource for accurate, well-researched information about Islam and Muslims.
A welcoming center with attractive audiovisuals highlighting the origin, growth and accomplishments of our mosque would be an attractive and welcome addition. I pray and wish that the Islamic Center of Long Island continues to be a source of good deeds for the community at large and inculcates the values of honesty, justice and charity in future generations.
Rabbi Anchelle Perl
Director, Chabad of Mineola
I define the growth of our synagogue not only by numbers but by its popularity with Jews of all backgrounds who want to learn more about their Jewish roots. The evidence of this can be seen just by walking into our shul, and noticing that the people inside are Jews who come from all walks of life, from all backgrounds and affiliations. You will see smiles, hugs and warm handshakes as people greet each other in a uniquely intimate and relaxed setting. At every service you will find couples, singles, seniors and children.
People come to our shul because of the sense of community and Jewish warmth they feel here. Traditional Jewish values are brought to life in a joyous, nonjudgmental atmosphere. You are welcomed, in fact encouraged, to ask questions, and implored to be as nonjudgmental of your neighbor as he or she is of you. We endeavor to bring unity to the Jewish community through our common bond of Jewish faith and observance. An important part of our community is the weekly Kiddush Luncheon that follows the Shabbat morning services, where friendships are created and nurtured, and where we celebrate each other's happy occasions and anniversaries.
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