The thought which is in the forefront of every preacher is “Where do I get a receptive audience?” It is natural that we are perplexed about where we will find a group of committed members who will come week after week to our Bhakti Vrksha meetings.
This holds true only till you start a Vrnda. For once you start a Vrnda, all members are gradually trained to invite their friends and acquaintances to the program. Even when the group multiplies and starts more Vrndas, it starts with some of the existing members from the parent Vrnda, who share the responsibility of bringing new people.
If you are already attending some devotional programs in the temple, then inviting some of the visitors there to your program would be very easy and effective. Some regular visitors to the temple might also be interested to attend a supplementary program that is for a smaller group where the interaction and attention is bound to be better.
Festivals are a good time to encounter a lot of new visitors. Even if two out of the 10 or 15 people you approach actually make it to the Bhakti Vrksha meeting, you can consider your effort successful. Book distributors are a good source of contacts who need to be further cultivated in their Krsna consciousness.
If you are keenly looking for potential members, you will find them! It may be in a supermarket, a bus stop, a clinic…. you name it. It is not difficult to find people to attend our meetings, if we know how to approach them.
The first strategy is to understand how much they need what you are going to give them. (Everyone needs it!) Then you will have the confidence and determination to approach them.
If there are already some senior devotees in your yatra who are ready to lead Vrnda groups, then you can meet together for a few weeks, while inviting some of the junior devotees as well. Each one of the trainee leaders can take turns in conducting the Vrnda. After a few weeks/months, when everyone feels confident of leading a group of their own, you can multiply with the junior devotees and any newcomers to the program being divided between the trainee leaders, preferably according to how they are located geographically for convenience.
Some people may be already attending programs of other faiths, and so if you invite them to attend an ISKCON program, they may hesitate to accept it. Invite the Indians for a talk and discussion on the Bhagavad Gita accompanied by a few hymns or chants. Among Indians who are Hindus, Bhagavad Gita is equally respected among all the communities. After attending the program and appreciating it, they are normally willing to come for an ISKCON program.
For others, there can be different ways to attract them. Everyone is looking for peace and happiness, and so you can invite them to a program of some chants to bring peace and happiness to them and to discuss the philosophy behind it. If you also mention the feast at the end of the program, that would help!
Whatever the culture and special circumstances of your place, there are certain common features of people all over the world which make this approach universal. Globalization has occurred in the material sphere of life in such a pronounced way. Spiritual globalization should not be difficult either!
1) The ideal situation would be to invite people of your local neighbor hood to attend your program, for several reasons, chief of them being the accessibility. If they live close to your house, staying in touch becomes very easy. For the members too, attending your program will be easy and comfortable. They would thus be regular at your meetings. Your prasadam also can be greatly simplified and informal as they are not traveling great distances to attend your program. The members will be able to interact amongst themselves periodically as they all live close by. You will be able to visit them frequently and be able to care for them well. It will also be very easy to organize an extra day for study classes, picnics, etc…Also the feeling of neighborliness may be an impetus for them to attend your program.
2) Make a flyer inviting the members to attend a program at your house.
Things to note while making the flyer:
Do not mention that you are planning a regular weekly program. Before knowing what it is all about, nobody likes to commit themselves. So make the invitation only for the first day. In an Indian setting, you could call it a “Bhajan Satsang” along with discussions on the Bhagavad Gita. In cultures unfamiliar to the Vedic culture, you could phrase it differently. If you are going to have a mixed gathering then you can invite the Indians too with the same flyer that you are giving the others.
The following is a flyer that was distributed in the
You’re cordially invited to a small gathering of our neighborhood for a program on
“Universal culture and brotherhood”
Hymns and chants that bring happiness and good fortune to everyone, as well as short readings from ancient scriptures.
It will be most effective if you have two people go and invite them personally. This has a much better response than just dropping the fliers in their homes.
Anyway if even two out of fifteen people that you have invited attend your program, you should consider it a good response from your neighborhood.
The format of the program:
1) Seat them all in a circle facing one another. Introduce yourself first and request them to introduce themselves.
2) Give a short address on how music and religious chants are highly essential in today’s competitive world to soothe the people’s minds and to give meaning to their otherwise mechanical lives. Discuss how television as an alternative has destroyed people’s creativity and finer feelings and made them more impersonal.
Mention how all religions advocate the chanting the holy names of the Lord in order to bring peace and happiness to the people. Talk about the Hare Krsna mantra as an ancient Vedic chant which is very soothing and inspiring. Ask them if they would like to try it. If they are not against it, then you can start a soft kirtan and request them to also repeat the mantra after you. Please keep copies of the maha mantra written and distribute it to all the members during the kirtan.
3) If they request you to include some chant that they are familiar with, include it also for a few minutes.
4) Read out from BV module 4 the spiritual edification passage which is a passage containing the explanation of the Hare Krsna mahamantra as given by Srila Prabhupada. If you find them receptive, you can conduct a discussion among them by asking the questions at the end of the passage in the modules.
Alternatively, if you find any of the Namamrta passages in the modules to be appropriate for reading, you could do so. If you have the book on “Namamrta” or the “Nectar of chanting the holy names of Krsna” which is an ISKCON compilation of the different quotations of Srila Prabhupada, as well as a few quotes from scriptures., you can read appropriate verse/verses from that. Set aside a few minutes for questions or comments from the participants.
5) Serve prasadam to the guests and make sure that you engage with them in informal talk. The discussion during the program will most likely also continue during prasadam time.
6) If they show a lot of interest, you can tell them about Srila Prabhupada’s books, and show them a few small books.
7) Decide when you want the next program and ask them if they would like to come for it.
8) For the subsequent 6 or 8 weeks, you can have icebreaker or the sat-sanga session, kirtan and reading and discussion of the spiritual edification/Namamrta from the BV modules or any other passages that you find suitable. You can gradually include japa if you find the people showing interest. You can enquire from them if they would like to chant on the beads before actually including it.
9) You can make the transition to conducting a full fledged Bhakti Vrksha very easily after about 6 to 8 weeks, or even earlier if you consider them sufficiently enthusiastic about the program.
Alternatively, you could start other forms of outreach programs to attract prospective Bhakti Vrksha members. The content of the outreach can be highly variable according to what or how much you think your guests will accept of Krsna consciousness.
If it is an Indian gathering, you could straight away start with a kirtan, some short lecture/ readings from Krsna book and teaching them Bhagavad slokas and gradually introducing them to chanting etc…and prasadam with some video shows of different ISKCON ITV recordings like the Hare Krsna world, the spiritual oasis, and so on.
You can make the program more interactive as time goes on and slowly can introduce the ice breakers. Once they enjoy the interactive ness, you can progress to conducting the Spiritual edifications session and the rest of the modules as well.
For non- Indians, you can have as varied an out reach program as vegetarian cookery classes, Bhakti yoga classes, etc. and then gradually get them to the regular Bhakti Vrksha program in a matter of 7 to 8 weeks time. When making the transition, do not announce that you are making any changes, but just very naturally introduce the changes, so that they accept it as they get to experience it.
Do not worry too much if a few of the members leave your group. This sort of sifting continues till you are left with steady, committed members. For those who fall away, you can still keep their contacts and continue inviting them for big festival programs, other out reach programs, etc…so that they can gradually progress in their Krishna consciousness. Actually, once the program is well established. there can be a regular weekly outreach program going on to cater to people with less commitment. But till such time, you can focus your attention on training people who are most ready to attend the Bhakti Vrksha group or the Vrnda.