ISKCON 2011 #3 A Preacher’s Checklist for Growth

From time to time I hear accusations that ISKCON is not growing; or worse still, that it may be shrinking; and that proof of this is that some temples are closing, empty during the week, or only attracting Indian families.

Personally I don’t believe that this is the case. I consider these accusations to be largely the propaganda strategies of embittered former members. Unfortunately I can’t prove it; we don’t seem to have international statistics on membership – at least stats that are easily available. Unlike other church groups we don’t seem to keep them. Srila Prabhupada wanted a GBC ‘Ministry of Records’ but as yet we don’t have one. Therefore each of us has to be content with impressions.

I will agree that some temples are closing, or empty during the week; and that some don’t seem to be attracting the national demographic of their particular country. But I know for a fact that growth is happening in other areas, and I would respectfully suggest to any ISKCON critic that he take certain factors into consideration.

Firstly that new devotees are not necessarily ‘joining’ in the manner they did in our earlier years. If you still want to consider ISKCON as being a ‘confederation of temples’ and ‘devotees’ being temple or ashram residents then you might be disappointed in the drop in numbers. But the fact of the matter is that the majority of new initiates neither live in our centres nor are they likely to do so.

If temples are empty of visitors during the week, but bustling with Hindu families at the weekend, it can only be said that this will not be sustainable. Like every other human being, devotees get older by the day, and if the senior members in a particular ashram are not gradually replaced by exactly the same number of junior members (or more) then that ashram is looking towards extinction in a few short years.

If the majority of devotees do not currently live in ashrams, it would seem this is a trend that is likely to continue on into the future. As much as possible we must now collectively work in ways to support our local ashrams and help them to attract new ashram members. At the same time, new strategies are required to spiritually care for the majority Vaishnava community that dwell everywhere else. And the entire enterprise must be based on sharing the life and teachings of Krishna consciousness with others.

However, it’s my impression that, in some places at least; the preaching attempts are not ‘joined up.’ Like a dot-to-dot puzzle in a children’s book, some numbers have lines between them and many others don’t. And it’s not the complete picture.

In places where some of the vital preaching elements are missing, it may be that a vital link in the chain of events bringing a new person to Krishna is missing. Sad to say, but in spite of all our best efforts with one form of preaching, we lose many people due to absences of other forms.

Sometimes, all the elements were in place a decade ago, but since then, devotees left and their vital services never replaced. When devotees leave a particular centre, often the skill, enthusiasm and determination for a particular preaching activity go with them. The sankirtan leader goes to another temple and book distribution dies. Or the devotee who did the university speaking gets married, and the university society is allowed to close. Solution? Every leader in a particular activity must simultaneously be training someone else for the service. That devotees will leave is likely, and centres have to prepare for the inevitable.

But what are those outreach activities that form all our preaching ‘dots’ which, if all joined up, form the complete preaching picture for any devotee community? Srila Prabhupada suggested at least these (but there many more):

  1. Gorgeous temple worship and regular festivals for the Deities.
  2. Book and magazine distribution
  3. ‘Sumptuous’ Prasadam Distribution
  4. ‘Street chanting party’ – harinam sankirtan in the city and surroundings
  5. Public festivals with drama, kirtan, lecture and feast.
  6. Grand Rathayatra processions
  7. Programmes in a hall, home, office, factory or school
  8. Answering people’s questions
  9. University engagements
  10. Senior devotees teaching and guiding the junior devotees; setting the example for guests residing in the temple for a while to learn how to render pure devotional service.
  11. Giving out free information in addition to selling books.
  12. Inviting guests to the Sunday Feast (or whatever day of the week is good)

As I wrote in the previous post, all of the above – even if expertly and successfully done – are merely prerequisites for growth, in contrast to actual growth indicators, and the actual growth of the community can only be measured in the number of souls taking up the teachings or the practices seriously. If ashram residents are required to continue ISKCON traditions in a particular city, then only when they reside in the ashram can you count growth. So if your temple (or community) is suffering from no-growth or slow growth syndrome you might like to ask the following questions:-

Prerequisites for Growth

  1. Is our temple worship gorgeous? Do we have festivals for the Deities?
  2. Has book distribution diminished and if so, why? How can it be developed again?
  3. Is the prasadam ‘sumptuous’? Do we actually give it out? To whom?
  4. When is the last time we went out on Harinam sankirtan?
  5. How often do we hold public festivals (other than the Sunday feast)?
  6. What about home programmes? What about the local university?
  7. How many of us talk with people on a daily basis, and for how long?
  8. Do people only come to the temple for kirtan and class or are they inspired to do it for themselves in their own home? Do we actively encourage people to do that?
  9. Does anyone stay here to learn? For a morning programme? A weekend? A week?
  10. Do we give out free information? What is the quality of that? The message?
  11. Are senior devotees: a) setting the example? b)  training and guiding the junior devotees? Could any congregation members help us with that?

Growth indicators

As a result of our preaching:

1.      Are more people gathering together with devotees?

2.      Are they joining local devotee groups/ sangas/ nama hatta’s?

3.      Are more people reading, discussing, understanding and practically applying what’s in Srila Prabhupada’s books?

4.      How many people are chanting the Hare Krishna Mantra on a daily basis – 1, 4, 8 or 16 rounds?

5.      Who is looking after them in a structured, systematic manner?

6.      How many have made the choice to go vegetarian because of our preaching?

7.      How many vegetarians are now offering their food to Krishna?

8.      How many persons were persons were initiated last year? If not, why not?

9.      How many of those newly initiated devotees are engaged in preaching? (Hint: If you answer ‘none’ to this one, something is wrong)

The first set of questions will reveal your growth potential, the second your factual growth.

And of course, after so much effort to bring new members to Krishna – make sure you don’t lose them through avoidable behaviours.



Filed under Journal

5 responses to “ISKCON 2011 #3 A Preacher’s Checklist for Growth

  1. gpd

    Prabhu ji you have proposed a plan for growth; what would you propose to be a good plan for maintenance? what is the future of devotees? how can we or the people thinking to join our society see their future as a devotee or member so they dont have to leave iskcon, the temple or service of the society they joined, considering it would be a life long commitment. what happened to prabhupada’s plan for iskcon as a permenent community that would fulfil all requirements of preaching and devotees?

    • If we look to Srila Prabhupada’s life, it would appear that he was never really what we would now refer to as ‘a temple devotee’. He was a married man with children and worked to support them for 40 years or so. During this time he would support the branches of his guru’s institution with funds and then with his own preaching contribution, which grew as the years passed.

      His guru also had many thousands of disciples – the majority of them married. There was no question, if a disciple was married, that the institution would maintain his family for him.

      And yet Srila Prabhupada created his own institution where many might have been given the impression that, since they were meant to be members of ISKCON for life, it was therefore up to the institution to maintain them for life.

      The idea was that the married members of ISKCON would be a revolutionary sub-group which, rather like the Amish, left the cities in favour of making a living from agriculture. The lack of farming skills and experience (and inclinnation!), agricutural land, housing and so on, tended to put a dampener on that idea. The non-married members would live in urban ashrams and invite people to join them and hear the philosophy. The philosophy would then be practically demonstrated by those on the farms.

      There’s a long history of why things did not happen as Srila Prabhupada wanted (and I’m sure other readers will know better than me!) but one major is that many disciples, city-dwellers, most of them, could not adjust to the rigors of country life. They also needed housing and education for their children long before it was possible for the institution to provide these essential facilities.

      But the idea is still there. As Srila Prabhupada stated it is: “…50% of my mission…” it is still up to us all to make the moves necessary.

      • dusyanta dasa

        Hare Krsna.
        I dont think i would agree with the terminology “rigours of country life” as an accurate and appropriate way of describing mode of goodness lifestyle.
        Naturally the effects of performing devotional service is to elevate the practioner through the modes of material nature from ignorance to passion to goodness to pure goodness.If the devotees manifest an aversion to the mode of goodness living,eg,countryside,low impact business and construction,cows and land, then what chance do we have in practicing what we are preaching and exhibiting the practical example of krsna conscious lifestyle.If we cant demonstrate ecological,sustainable harmonized living then it does not inspire todays modern people who know that this is the way forward.
        We only have to recylce so much stuff because we consume so much and a mode of goodness lifestyle dispenses with so much packaging and consumerable goods.The mode of goodness is low impact living which is the best way to deal with our modern capitalistic culture of consummerism.Besides all those environmental benefits the members of such a mode of goodness community are more secure and happy naturally becuse of the beneficial influence of the mode of goodness.
        The whole ethos and ambience of this lifestyle has a more supportive and stable background.The devotee in this situation is more enabled and energetic to go out to the lower modes of nature places to preach the relevant message of Godhead knowing that back home in the community there is support,friends and the example of the message that is in the Books.
        The Community Iskcon is still to be manifest so there is not really a question of expansion or contraction to apply to Iskcon at this stage because Iskcon is not Adult yet,we are still very much in the fledgling stage of manifestation.Community is the next stage to attain to manifest the practical example of living in the material world in Krsna Consciousness.
        And of course that is up to the personnel that is present in Iskcon at any given time.To date it has not happened so we hope that soon the steps will be taken to establish Community in the mode of goodness,what a preaching tool then.

  2. Lal

    Do you think getting initiated may help?

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