By His Holiness B.V.V. Narasimha Swami
One thing that has really changed between the past and present is the size of our congregations. When I first joined the movement, there were only a very few people who were regulars at our Sunday programs and festivals. Today the times have changed, and so have our congregations. Practically all established temples not only have sizable congregations, but the congregations are actively involved in the temple. The days of the temple visitors just standing by and watching are over, and now we often find them giving lectures to the Sunday guests while some lead kirtanas and others help in organizing festivals. We no longer think of our congregation as just some friends who we can ask for donations when we need it, but we see them as being a vital part of the temple and as persons who play important roles. Even our own Srila Prabhupada was a congregational member for many years before he accepted the renounced order of life. So we should not overlook our congregation.
These days, when full time devotees are few and far between, there is a lot of scope for congregational preaching. Such persons are also devotees although they may or may not take initiation. This is not the most important factor. It is more important that they be engaged in some form of service for the Lord and His devotees. Devotional service itself is the purifying aspect of Krsna consciousness and all devotees want to be engaged in the Lord’s service and to see others also engaged.
A congregation does not just assemble by chance or due to some mystical power. It takes the efforts of some temple devotees to reach out, encourage and care for them. Our classes have to interest the congregation. If we organize special courses on books like Bhagavad-gita then so much the better. Devotees can lead them to the holy places and introduce them to the leaders of ISKCON. The more we reach out to help the congregation, the more they reciprocate.
The Delhi temple who recently had astounding success in distributing Bhagavad-gitas. Some of their highest results came from congregational members.
At Bhaktivedanta Manor both the Manor Patron members and the Pandava Sena Youth have rendered invaluable service over the recent years. Both groups consist entirely of congregational members. We just had the opening of a magnificent center in Ujjain. The entire project was funded by congregational devotees. There is no limit to what a congregation can do for the service of the Lord.
One of the most impressive incidents where the congregation really played their part was in England when the government threatened to close down Bhaktivedanta Manor. Thousands of people came to join in the protest marches and rallies. Many devotees were even arrested.
In the 1970s devotees were accused of brain-washing and controlling the minds of people in order to recruit them to ISKCON. Srila Prabhupada instructed us to take signatures from all of the supporters of our movement to defend our principles. Srila Prabhupada wanted that our practices should be recognized as belonging to a timeless religion. Again, it took a lot of support from the congregation to save us from the bad publicity.
In conclusion we can see that maintaining a congregation is not a burden but an asset for every temple. While it is easy to make enemies, it is not so easy to get good friends and that is why we need congregational preaching.
(Excerpt from the book ‘The Nectar of Congregational Preaching’ by ISKCON Congregational Development Ministry )
For downloading this excellent book please click following link