I've been emailing with a reader named Shmuel, who suggested to me that while shuls like mine can pursue various innovations to get people to try services, people will only return if they really want to. He pointed out that if one feels grateful for the blessings of the week, and if one believes God is responsible for those blessings, then it's natural to spend a few hours connecting with God and expressing that gratitude -- but many people don't seem to believe in God, or to believe that praying the liturgy is the way to nurture and express feelings of thankfulness.
I think he's probably right about that. So now what? Part of me would like to figure out how to convince other people to approach the liturgy (and our Source) with an open heart, because I think there's tremendous holiness to be found there, and I think the continuity and connection of praying regularly can temper frustrations and sadness, can make life measurably sweeter. Why wouldn't I want to share something that good?
But another part of me remembers that it took me years of distance from congregational Judaism, and a journey catalyzed by reading The Jew In The Lotus, to find my way to a Jewish experience that is sustaining. Maybe each of us has her own variation on that journey, and it's not my place (or within my power) to boost anyone to a new place on that path unless they're ready to be there anyway.
Our prayerbook includes this short meditation from Likutim Yekarim 15b:
When you pray, you are like a bed of coals.
After prayer, as long as a single spark remains,
A great fire can be kindled again.
But if that spark dies, there can be no fire.
Cling to God always,
Even at times when you feel unable to reach God.
This is how you may preserve that single spark
So that the fire of your soul is never extinguished.
Different people may have different ways of protecting our own sparks, and congregational prayer might not be the best way for everyone to keep that flame alive. (I've certainly had some liturgical experiences which seemed designed to dampen my flame altogether; though I've had others which set me totally alight.) Maybe what's most important to God is that we keep our holy connections burning. If we do that in shul, that's great. If we do it in meditation, that's great. If we do it through walking in the woods, as Reb Nachman of Bratzlav is said to have done every day, that's great too. What's important is that we keep our sparks alight. (Yes? No? Maybe?)