As a former community organizer and event coordinator in the young Jewish community, I had to learn the art of how to successfully engage young adults.
Last winter I held an event at one of the most well-known mountains in New England. I was able to offer discount passes, hired a semi-popular local band, and offered free transportation and plenty food. The event was marketed and promoted weeks in advance and I hired student recruiters to encourage their friends to go. The event should have had at least 75 attendees. Unfortunately, it only had 15.
On all accounts, this should have been an easy success: I had a good budget, access to bands, and a location that typically draws large crowds. With all of this I was unaware of what was missing: I didn’t realize that the 18-27 year-old generation only cared about who else is going and would only attend events if they were personally invested.
This generation is always connected socially through Facebook check-ins, Instagram location tagging, Snapchat, and Apple’s Find Friends. That means there’s no shortage of ways to know what friends are doing and where they are. This constant, almost instantaneous social media updates and ‘check-ins’ can be fun, but it also has a negative side and makes it easier for some to feel left out since they’re constantly aware of what they’re not part of. People can feel like they’re missing out on the group if they aren’t checked into the ‘right’ places at the ‘right’ time.
As children, these now 18-27 year olds were told they were special; they could do anything they wanted and should pursue their interests wholeheartedly. This has lead to young adults who do just that: invest their time and energy in their passions. This generation wants to feel connected to what they choose to invest their time in, rather than just showing up or being a part of something simply because it exists. They want - and need - to be engaged.
Once I understood this, my approach to planning events shifted. It became clear that in order to have successful events, I needed to build communities of students who were involved in and engaged with the process of creating the events. That’s precisely why event planning alone doesn’t work. In order to be successful at planning events, synagogues must find social influencers who are a part of the target age group. These influencers will then be able to create micro-communities which increase the population of involved 18 -27 year olds dramatically.
MJ Lowinger is Jvillage Network's Engagement Consultant