Effective Outreach During A Rathayatra Festival
Outreach – How to beget devotees from a Rathayatra
During one of our meetings between GBC-SPN (Strategic Planning Network) Outreach Committee and the ISKCON Congregational Development Ministry, the subject matter of discussion was how to improve our outreach during the festivals that we celebrate in ISKCON. It has been observed that most of our festivals are successful in creating a majestic impression in the minds of the people, but fail to generate new devotees in a large number. In spite of so much time, labor, money and intelligence being used in each festival, we remain almost unproductive. Especially our Rathayatras are celebrated with a great pomp and circumstance, but they hardly yield any fruits in terms of new devotees. Hence, the GBC-SPN Outreach Committee, in collaboration with the Congregational Development Ministry, designed a process to generate contacts during the Rathayatras and thus, make them worth all the expenditure. Before we get into the technical details, here are some practical examples of the process, successfully implemented at various places. The first implementation was at Mathura Rathayatra during the month of Kartik in the year 2015. A team of 15+ devotees was exclusively engaged in this sublime task to generate contacts. A database of approximately 400 new contacts was registered at the end of the celebration, which followed another dedicated outreach program, especially to cultivate these contacts, after around a month. ISKCON Ahmedabad implemented it twice during the Rathayatras, while celebrating the annual function, and produced a contacts database with approximately 500 entries. Very recently the same exercise was carried out with an improved modus operandi during the first ever Rathayatra at ISKCON Vapi – Gujarat, which yielded approximately 800 quality contacts to a team of 20 dedicated preachers, who carried out this mission. The feedback of the devotees who participated in this project, invariably has been extremely delightful and now this has turned out to be one of their favorite services to take. They were completely satisfied and were contented with the idea that they could be instrumental in bringing new souls to Krishna Consciousness. We, as a committee, will track their results and follow up for gathering their statistics, so as to report to the GBC. Now let us understand the step by step procedure to implement the same:
- Gather a team of preachers who are well conversant in the local language, with a pleasing personality, who are humble and tolerant, clear in their basics and responsible, as these could be (ideally – should be) the future mentors/counselors of the new contacts that they would generate in the process. Please remember, better the preachers – better the outcome. Hence, kindly do not underestimate this process and please give this service a higher priority in your list.
- Each preacher should have a separate dress code or something unique in their appearance if possible and should carry a kit which has:
- A handbag (Sankirtan bag)
- A cap for protecting them from the heat (these could be uniquely colored caps, so as to differentiate them from the others)
- A pen and a writing support pad
- An I-Card holder and a printed I-card with the heading such as ‘May I Assist You?’
- Handouts / leaflets / handbills – with the information about the temple/center, the programs being conducted during the weekdays, festivals, services, specialties, Govindas, etc. (whatever you wish to project). Also, add basic information about our philosophy and the importance of Sankirtan yagna, Mahamantra and so on.
- Printed cards with the picture of the Deities on one side and the Mahamantra on the other or some other gifts like small books, key rings, etc.
- Small and decent packets of dry Mahaprasadam, with a print of Lord Jagannatha on the packet, if feasible.
- Printed forms with the following details: Name, Age, Gender, Occupation, Education, Email, WhatsApp (mobile) number, Area of residence (full address in not required – this is just to facilitate grouping according to the area they stay in) and what is he/she interested in (list out various activities we usually have in our temple/center).
- Have a meeting with the team on the previous day or whenever convenient and explain to them the purpose and importance of the project. Handover the kits to them during the same meeting, so that they are ready for the warfront beforehand and explain about each and every item in the kit and their respective purpose.
- How and when to start? As soon as the Rathayatra begins, the team should come in action and should spread out in all the directions, walking alongside continuously with the Ratha. Matajis can cover the matajis’ side and the prabhujis can approach the prabhus (or as convenient). Begin very gently with a polished language, expressing genuine love and concern and exhibiting the service attitude. With the like genders, keeping your hand on their shoulders, handshaking and embracing will make them feel completely at home.
- Whom should they approach? Those who are well-dressed, look educated and refined, interested in the subject, residents of aristocratic societies, big shops and showroom owners, students, youth, parents of the school going children, principals or trustees of the schools or collages that come one the way, etc. The other class of people can just be given the handbills and prasaadam and can be invited verbally to the temple. The choice is yours.
- Create a small team of 2 members, responsible to supply the paraphernalia of the kit to the preachers on the field, as and when required. Generally the team leader can take up this responsibility, so as to know how the preachers are performing. A vehicle, ideally a two wheeler, is inevitable for this purpose.
- Don’t miss the prasadam pandal after completion of the Yatra, as many would have come just for the prasadam. Sit beside them while they honor prasadam and note down their details.
- Ask the team members to write their names on each form for the purpose of identification.
- Finally, collect all the forms, prepare a database in an excel sheet and segregate according to their educational level, age and the area of residence.
- Create a follow-up team. THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECTS OF THIS PROCESS. If you fail to follow them up and to keep the contacts alive, the complete effort could be wasted. Ideally, the matajis who are soft-spoken and having sophisticated language are the best for this purpose. You may contact us for further training or complete guidance on the follow-up system.
- Thereafter, arrange various step by step outreach and fundamental training programs like Discover Your Self, The Gita Program, etc. and gradually get them to the next level of interest and acceptance.
- Finally, group them according to their age group, educational background or gender and start a complete devotee training program like Bhakti-vriksha, Namahatta, Counseling system, temple residents training, etc. according to your needs and availability of the resources.
Before we conclude, here is another example of a successful Rathayatra Outreach, with some variations: A festival at ISKCON Kolkata is the breeding ground of new contacts, whether it is Janmashtami or a Rathayatra. Usually a pandal is built with multiple area wise sections, so as to facilitate easy search of a Bhakti-vriksha (satsanga) program in the closest neighborhood of the visitor. As soon as the visitors enter a relevant section in the pandal, a team of devotees belonging to that area, engage them in some or the other spiritual activities like quiz or spiritual questions, award them some gifts and give Mahaprasadam and register their details, so as to follow up and invite them to the Bhakti-vriksha program going on in their area. Eventually, a huge database of contacts is generated at the end of the festival. Hence, if you so desire, we can happily assist you at all levels, right from managing the Rathayatra Outreach Program up to the devotee training program, according to your requirements.
Thanking you in anticipation, On behalf of the GBC-SPN Outreach Committee & the Congregational Development Ministry, Your servant, Daamodara Dhananjaya Das