There's no question that apathy is common in all parts of Western society today. The vast majority of people live lives of quiet desperation, working to make money to pay the bills and not much more. Greater causes, common goals, meaningful things to believe in, are far and few between. This apathy has not ignored the Jewish nation, including the Orthodox portion. How may yirei Shamayim approach davening with genuine fervour all the time, learn as if their lives and the world itself depend in it every day? How many show up for davening and learning because it's part of the routine, something they just do?
In a small community the problem is even more acute. On one hand it should be the opposite way around if you think about it. When there aren't lots of folks on hand those that are have to try harder. A minyan isn't guaranteed. If people don't step up, shiurim don't happen. Yet in the small community I live in there seems to be an apathy that is getting worse over time.
Back in September, for example, the local UJA sent out a mass e-mail with a list of classes the different synagogues were offering for the new Jewish year. The Conservative synagogue had about ten, the Reform a similar number but the Orthodox shul? Nothing.
The previous year we'd offered half a dozen, all of which died out by Chanukah. Since then one rabbi continued offering his own shiurim which I guess the shul could claim since he held them there and a few other guys got together for regular chavrusa settings but in terms of organized, shul-specific classes, there was pretty much nothing. The worse part was that no one seemed to notice except me.
Over time the crowds are getting smaller at the routine davenings. Less and less of the Orthodox crowd, the folks who you'd think would reliably show up because, well, we're supposed to, come out. I'm just as guilty, by the way. I pretty much make it out for Shabbos Mincha and that's just because I have a chavrusa afterwards. If he's away, I pretty much finish Shabbos at home.
Now from the other side one has to note that the shul in our community is partly to blame. Over the last several years there has been a conscious effort to reach out to the non-religious and non-attached folks in town in order to grown the congregation's size. There's a good reason for this: more members equals more dues equals more financial solvency for the place. To achieve this the shul's Rav has done what he can to make the place more parve. What was an Orthodox shul with a sign on the sanctuary door asking married women to wear a head covering during prayers is now a community shul with Orthodox-style prayers with a sign on the wall asking congregants to mute their cell phones during prayers. Prayers on Friday night and Saturday morning aren't so much services as programs with exciting Carlebach style singing and the same chazzanus for Mussaf week after week after week.
My own lack of attendance mostly arose from getting tired of finishing my silent Amidah after the chazzan had whipped past Kedushah or had finished Maariv. Yes, over the years my davening might have slowed down slightly but not that much. Given the choice of rushing or praying at home at a slow pace, I chose the latter and I'm guessing many others did too.
So now we sit in a situation where apathy reigns. If the Rav were to try to draw us out with new shiurim that were above the basic let's-not-alienate-the-non-religious-folks level we'd roll our eyes and say "Let's see if it survives three or four weeks". We have stopped caring which is going to eventually hurt the shul because the same people he's been so active in reaching out to are the same folks who will never show up during the week when you really need them to. They come for the free food and bouncy castles and we don't have those at 7:15 am on Tuesday mornings. So without them and us, what will he have?
(Please don't suggest: hey, have you tried talking to him? Let's just say such a tactic would fail and leave it at that)
How does one combat such apathy?