Lots of us have been to weddings or various other lifecycle events where dancing is likely ensue. There is often a moment where people feel like there should be dancing but no one has yet struck out in that direction. A few people get out there and grab a couple other people but it still somewhat awkward. Oftentimes a bunch of people join up quickly and things get going fast, furious, and freylich.  Pretty soon other folks see that it’s hot and they join up too. The dancing has quickly gone from a dozen or so to a hundred or more and it grinds to a slow crawl. The excitement of the original dancing has died down and people are taking short strides to the right, careful to avoid stepping on feet of elbowing the folks in front and behind. my grandmother’s mall-walking group has more pizazz. This may happen in cycles depending on the occasion and communal dynamics.
Rebecca Meyers suggested, that minyanim have similar cycles. I would add that this trend is not limited to minyanim though lay-leadership and thre assumption that everyone is an active member of the community may exacerbate this process.
It would seem to me that the minyan version of the trend goes something like this:

  1. Several people who are for some reason dissatisfied with the current options, think there is need for a new place to daven.
  2. A group of those people try to get something started.
  3. It sputters at first but the potential is recognized by those in the new minyan and some who are not yet.
  4. As more folks join, potential is actualized, things are rockin’.
  5. People start streaming in from all directions.
  6. What was funky and fantastic becomes overcrowded and less dynamic.

When I first heard it, this analogy struck me as quite astute and a very good fit.
It brings up a couple of questions.

  • why do minyanim in step 6 get less vibrant and the davening less good?
  • how can you avoid some of the problems created by step 6? what do you do if your group, despite smart community organizing reaches step 6?

(cross-posted at divinity is in the details)