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I had a long conversation someone in their early teens and we were discussing as to why children don’t want to come to Shul although there are youth services etc and we narrowed it down to one question what’s today purpose of coming to Shul.

Another conversation I had with someone many months ago before their bar mitzvah said to me, I will come put tefillin on before my bar mitzvah then come for the call up, you won’t see me until I get married if I marry Jewish, then will say Kaddish for a parent.

What could we possibly add to make the youth come to Shul?

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    An interesting, relevant to all ages sermon, delivered in a non-monotone probably would help. – Gary Dec 30 '18 at 0:02
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    If I had any ideas besides "don't make it a boring turn-off", I'll post it. I was forced at fist and belt-point to attend at that age, so I'm not exactly the right person for this sort of answer. Just guessing, if Judaism is a thing the family enjoys exploring and practicing together, than synagogue can be a nice part of it, participating in the Community. If the family is dysfunctional, violent, not quite sane, and communicates at the top of their lungs, there's no way a child will enjoy the synagogue part of it, no matter how many youth programs it has. – Gary Dec 30 '18 at 1:14
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    Instilling youth with Yiras Shomayim from an early age will give them better appreciation for davening. That's what's worked for thousands of years. I mean, what are we going to start doing, rapping the davening? That just makes things cringey. Kids will be kids. They'll come around. – ezra Dec 30 '18 at 2:00
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    In our shul (Orthodox) this problem does not exist. The children come with their parents and attend learning sessions. They also go to day school - Yeshivah - and learn with the rabbi and their peers. You seem to be describing a synagogue where the family does not attend or regard it as important. When the children see the father attending minyan every day and they daven as part of their normal schooling, they continue learning and practicing. My children grew up this way and they passed it on to their children. In fact, my grandchildren regard it as a privilege when they are old enough. – sabbahillel Dec 30 '18 at 3:41
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    @Cyn - Thanks. We age, learn, and try to forgive. But it's far from rare, and basically no surprise when the statistics for generation-to-generation attendance and intermarriage rates are published. There's plenty of good folks, with true Yiras Shamayim whose words and actions can be trusted, and plenty of big plastic smiley faces stapled on horrible situations by people who are desperate to maintain their standing in the community..plenty of lonely unmaintained graves out there. Same as with any religious/social group, I suppose. – Gary Dec 30 '18 at 21:12
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Why do teenagers do anything?

A few basic reasons:

  1. Their parents make them.
  2. Bribery.
  3. They get to see their friends.
  4. They get something out of the experience.

You're heading straight for #4 and asking, how can we make the experience more meaningful to youth so they'll want to come? While it's an excellent question, I think it's the wrong one.

If you get kids used to the experience and make it part of their routine, this will make it easy for them to do it when they are adults and truly have the choice. How many Jews don't go to shul as adults because they "don't know how"? Or they're afraid of being judged for not knowing what to do? Or they just don't want to deal with a new experience?

So I start with #1: make them. In other words, it's not the kids you need to convince, it's the parents. I made my kid go to shul regularly in the year before her bat mitzvah. Now she rarely goes and it's totally her parents' fault. I made her go last week though and the tradeoff was she had to greet people before the service and attend the oneg (that part is easy) but she didn't have to sit in the service. Two of her friends came and they all hung out in another room. I wasn't thrilled with that, but at least they were in the building, right?

A lot of times teens would be perfectly happy to go to shul or anyplace else, but they won't admit it. So telling them they have to works like a charm. They can roll their eyes and scowl at you, but they actually want to do it. My daughter's like that every single morning when I drop her off at school. She says "do I have to go to school?" but only 30 seconds before we arrive (if she's actually sick, she'll tell me when she wakes up...and when she does skip school, she can't wait to get back).

Other times the teens might want to go someplace but only if their friends are there. Friend circles are really important at this age, far more than they are to adults or even to younger kids. Encouraging them to group message their friends so everyone knows who is and isn't coming is a plus.

But what can the shul do? I'd say give the teens special tasks. Some can be service related, like Monica talks about, and others can be separate (like helping to hand out the drinks for kiddish). Make sure friends are there.

Target kids by age. Teens do not want to go to "kids" events. My teen is only 13 but will not go to anything aimed at 11-12 year olds. So unless the teens are asked to help out (with actual important tasks, not just to be there), forget about getting them to kids programs.

And ask them. Every community is different. Maybe the shul wants to do a charity event. Let the teens choose and plan it, with some adult supervision.

Childcare is also important, because parents of teens also have younger children. Teens can help with the childcare too, which gets them in the building. Make it easy for the parents to come and the kids (of all ages) are more likely to follow.

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    My point is that you are starting 12 years too late. My grandcildren regard it a a privilege when they are old enough to attend with their fathers. This can be about kindergarten age or a little above. Waiting until they are bas mitzvah or bar mitzvah is way too late. The mothers would bring the babies for a little while and for the kiddush. By the time they are old enough to sit with their father, they are anxious to go. – sabbahillel Dec 30 '18 at 4:08
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    We've been attending shul regularly since my daughter was 2. I was hoping she'd get more and more into it but it goes up and down. She feels strongly Jewish though and she knows the basics. I've spoken with the Rabbi many times about what we can change to make the kids want to come. That is an advantage Orthodox have for sure, it is part of your lives in ways it isn't for those of us not Orthodox. But then I didn't attend shul at all until I was in college because I was raised secular. – Cyn Dec 30 '18 at 6:10
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    @DanielRoss Judaism and all it entails (including prayer) needs to be an everyday thing, not a once-a-week-at-best thing. Schools play a big role in teaching and reinforcing; strong parenting can overcome the lack of a supportive school, but even the best school can't do it all if the parents aren't fully on-board. – Monica Cellio Dec 30 '18 at 16:31
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    Yes, I think if the parents make the kids go, eventually they will find meaning in it. Just like making your kid go to academic school (something that almost every child does in the US but is not the norm everywhere) even when they don't want to. My kid may kvetch about school but she works hard, gets good grades in advanced classes, and wants to go to college, so I know I did something right. It is unfortunate that our shul's Hebrew school went from very strong to just not good over the years and I know that played a big role in lots of teens' disinterest. – Cyn Dec 30 '18 at 17:02
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    I'm thinking about your comment, @MonicaCellio. We are Jewish every day. We feel Jewish every day. But we don't do specifically Jewish things every day. We light Shabbus candles and do holidays and keep the kitchen kosher. This is probably a topic for a separate question though... – Cyn Dec 30 '18 at 17:11
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People in general come for a consistent experience that they value.

Kids come either because they're forced or because it's something the family values. So unless you have a super-strong youth program that is itself a community within your community, you need to engage the families, not just the kids.

I see this problem in liberal congregations, which are also the ones where core Jewish values including regular communal prayer are weakest. In a traditional community, kids grow up learning that this is what we do, not just because they're told but because they see their parents and older siblings and friends doing it, which in turn happens because of the centrality of torah and mitzvah observance in all aspects of life.

It sounds like you don't have a community where families routinely come, where (therefore) kids are part of and connected to the community from early on. I don't know how you bootstrap that; it's a hard problem that I watch my liberal congregation, and others, struggle with. But it's a whole-family, community-level challenge, not just "how do we get kids to come", because any special thing you do to attract kids, like special teen programming, revolves around the programming and not the service you're trying to get them to join. My congregation has a special "tot shabbat" once a month, for example -- and those families come once a month, not every week.

My congregation has a small, dedicated core on Shabbat mornings. It started out as adults only and is still mostly adults, but as people in the minyan had kids, we had to think about how to be accessible to them too -- without sacrificing aspects of the service that keep that dedicated core coming. For example, we knew that if we stripped out parts of the service to make it shorter for fidgety children, or dumbed down content for beginning readers, we'd lose the regulars. Instead we looked for ways to engage kids while doing what we normally do; for example, kids are always part of the torah procession, and we have small stuffed "torah scrolls" for them to carry around. We have a room just outside the chapel with comfortable furniture for parents and kids who need to step out for a bit of quiet time. We use niggunim to teach, or reinforce, newer melodies (which helps adults too). We set up the room so that it is as easy as possible for people to come late, leave early, or just step out for some time without drawing lots of attention. We (like most places, I imagine) have food, including cookies (a kid favorite), after the service. We don't have lots of kids coming, but the "children of the minyan" come. With luck we'll grow the minyan, both adults and kids, over time.

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