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Report from the GBC’s Strategic Planning Temple Development Committee

Monday, 04 April 2011 / Published in Editorial, GBC / 3,301 views

By Kaisori dasi

This is part three of a series of reports informing you about the work of the GBC’s Strategic Planning committees. If you missed the discussion about the Succession Committee or the Education Committee, you can find them here, respectively: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=9337 and http://www.dandavats.com/?p=9385

A devotee friend asked me recently about the rationale behind creating a strategic plan for a spiritual organization. He understood the need for strategic planning in the corporate world where you have to anticipate market changes and consumer interests, but he suspected its relevance to our confederation of devotees who, after all, are ultimately interested in transcendence. Doesn’t it go against the spontaneous nature of performing devotional service and spoil the devotees’ spirit a little if everything has to be so mapped out?

But it’s clear to me that Srila Prabhupada intended ISKCON to be more than a loose confederation of devotees. He wanted us to support the spiritual development of those who had given their lives to Lord Caitanya’s mission, and he wanted strong preaching. As early as 1968 Srila Prabhupada wrote a disciple, “[J]ust make a very rigid plan for opening centers in every nook and corner of the European countries. … try to install Deities and centers as many as possible. Actually the modern human society is in need of Krishna relationship, so as soon as they will come in touch with our movement, surely they will feel very happy. So kindly execute this responsibility to your best capacity, and Krishna will be very happy upon you.” Srila Prabhupada made many such statements pointing to organization and planning.

Like many organizations, ISKCON has spent a fair amount of time over the years reacting to rather than anticipating the demands of its own growth. This has created a cycle of mild to severe crisis management, which has left us, as a global movement, in survival mode, with little energy to do much more than cope with our day-to-day needs and problems. In many areas of the world we have lost the dynamic energy the movement had during the 1970s and much of the ’80s. It’s easy to give reasons for the decline – and they’d likely all be true from one angle or another. But there’s something else that’s true, too: All the ups and downs ISKCON has experienced since Srila Prabhupada’s departure have been pretty much inevitable – normal, even – for organizations, spiritual or otherwise, that are growing up.

So why strategic planning? Well, one reason is because it provides a viable alternative to crisis management. Another is that it allows us to study and anticipate our experiences as a movement and then help to shepherd our growth so that it stays positive and pleasing to Srila Prabhupada.

Which leads me to the work of the Temple Development Committee.

Srila Prabhupada wanted ISKCON’s temples to be centers of intensive devotional service, especially in the form of the five main practices essential to bhakti-yoga: chanting the holy name, hearing Srimad-Bhagavatam, worshiping the Deity, serving Vaishnavas, and living in a holy place. He also wanted the temples to serve as hubs for outreach, where the spiritual lives of our guests could blossom. While some of ISKCON’s temples are meeting these objectives, many are struggling.

In response, the Temple Development Committee is focusing on two projects. First, the creation of a resource directory listing what’s working for ISKCON’s most successful temples around the world. With a scheduled release date of October 2011, the pilot edition of the directory will cover the best practices of eleven temples and include sections on preaching, devotee care, effective administration and management, commercial initiatives, construction (including a section on environmentally friendly design), training and education, kitchen, finance, prasada distribution, and communications.

“Sharing best practices among temples has the potential to help small or struggling centers to avoid having to reinvent the wheel,” Gauranga Dasa, head of the Committee says. “We hope it will inspire temple leaders and become a valuable resource, especially for smaller yatras, by helping them feel their connection to and the support of our international movement.” The second project the Committee is working on is the development of a networking website – a shared database containing information about all of ISKCON’s temples. By gathering such information in one place, temple leaders anywhere in the world will be able to browse through it and find the ideas that most suit their own situations and use it to establish or expand their own centers. They will also be able to exchange with other temple leaders and share their own best practices or challenges.

The Committee plans to include quite a bit of detail about each center on the website. Aside from the obvious information, they plan to add details about each temple’s physical dimensions, and, in the case of new constructions, the contact details of the architect who designed it and anything else that could b of help. “The idea is that the website will serve as a database to optimize human resources for individual temples,” Gauranga Dasa says.

During Srila Prabhupada’s time, the GBC had a system whereby established temples adopted fledgling temples and helped them along. In effect, the Temple Development Committee is reviving the spirit of those days. With the help of this website, temple leaders will be able to network with other temple leaders anywhere in the world, creating a collective sharing of information, encouragement, best practices, and association that we hope will make stronger, more resource-efficient temples for the health of the whole movement.

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