ISKCON is a missionary organisation whose business it is to broadcast information of spiritual practises and devotional service to Krishna. We share information via books, conversations, periodicals, correspondence and the internet; and we do it for whoever is interested (and many who are not.)
But the aim of ISKCON is to work in such a way that the organisation itself grows, enabling it to do more for others, ISKCON must grow if it is to regard itself successful as a missionary organisation.
Growth can be estimated by the annual increase in ‘membership’. How do we define membership? One definition is that it is when a person decides that they agree with the teachings and makes a commitment to practise.
Practise is sometimes explained as ‘ABCD’ when a person chooses regular vaishnava Association, studies Srila Prabhupada’s Books, takes up the daily Chanting of the maha-mantra and adjusts the Diet to vegetarian food, offered to Krishna.
Growth of ISKCON is very much often a corollary of successful outreach activities such as book distribution, hari nam sankirtan, hall festivals, home gatherings, educational courses and personal cultivation; and spiritually dynamic temple programmes and leadership.
In themselves, these activities are the pre-requisites of growth but may not necessarily lead to growth in membership unless they are done consistently and in co0ordination with each other.
For instance, hari nam sankirtan may attract interest in Krishna consciousness but may not easily lead to direct growth in membership, unless there is literature distributed and a local temple where the enquirer can ask questions. If the temple itself is not spiritually dynamic then the enquirer may not return. If the temple is dynamic but does not promote its existence locally, no one may know of the existence of the Krishna devotees in that locality.
Therefore our outreach activities work best at attracting – and retaining – new members when they are done simultaneously and cooperatively. We may measure increases in our preaching activities and that is a measure of success. It means that devotees are enlivened to go out and preach. But measurement of the increase in pre-requisites of growth is not the same as measuring growth.
Book distribution may be increasing year on year, but, if very few are coming to the point of ‘ABCD’ then the book distribution figures only indicate growth potential, not the actual growth of the movement.
If ISKCON was a movement for book distribution only, such as the Gideon Bible Society, then measuring the number of books distributed would be a direct measurement of its growth.
We really do need to measure what’s most important to us, not simply what we do to broadcast the teachings and the Holy Name, but how many people join us as a result. That doesn’t mean how many choose to live in our centers, but how many choose to invite Krishna to live with them.