A comment on my last post and an observation by a friend last shabbat coincided to get me thinking about another aspect of the Independent Minyan problem.
In a comment, BZ noted that there is a major gap between those who finished college before the Indy phenomenon hit full stride and thereafter. Many people who graduated in the late '90s and early '00s moved to NY, DC and other centers expecting not to find the kind of religious community they wanted. When they got there, they either were part of starting up an exciting new minyan or found a nascent community that was far more fulfilling than they had expected. This was the population that enabled the phenomenon to grow and to spread to new communities, and many were both excited about their discovery and committed to helping it grow.
But things change fast in our world. 10 years ago most college students had no idea what was happening beyond the boundaries of campus, whereas today's students, with so much information in easy access, are much more in tune with developments in the larger community. And these minyanim are now so well established that new graduates are barely conscious of a world without them. In part that means they feel less of an obligation – these minyanim don't need their contributions to survive, and are no longer the dawn of a new age. It also means that they feel less of a sense of ownership, since they are joining a group that they did not shape, and thus are less committed to its success.
Then this past Shabbat, my friend Uri, a long-time Hadar member, attended a new, start-up Friday night minyan which met at Shaare Zedek, a local Conservative shul. He described the culture of the group to be quite similar to Hadar's, yet he guessed that he recognized less than a quarter of the (mostly young) faces. There are undoubtedly multiple reasons for this (it's not senility – he's younger than I): some may have been people who get to shul more often on Friday night than shabbat morning, or people just checking out a new thing. But mostly it seems to be people in their early 20s who are interested in participatory, musical, lay-led davening and yet have never or rarely been to Hadar and are not going to Kol Zimrah (I would love to get a KZ person's take on this). I don't have the answers to why they don't come to Hadar, nor do I know where (if anywhere) they are going shabbat morning. But I do know this: Hadar is feeling demographically limited from two sides. Many of the new people who get involved are mid to late 20s people whose friends have been involved for years. But it is starting to seem like for the new crop of 23-year-olds, Hadar is just not the hot new thing. It's the thing that is established, not the thing they have the opportunity to shape. I haven't gathered data about other Indy minyanim, but I wouldn't be surprised if the same issues are surfacing elsewhere.
It may be totally fine that a new generation is doing their own thing. But I think that we assumed that if we built it, they would come – that each successive wave of new grads would gravitate towards our minyanim and the unique culture they were creating. If we were just riding a wave borne of being the hot new thing, then we have to ask how we respond to that and what it means for the future of these minyanim that we value so highly.