Servant Evangelism: Gimmick or Grace?

Steve Sjogren is know for what is called Servant Evangelism which, as I understand it, is a way of doing outreach through acts of kindness in hopes of sharing the gospel. At Sjogren has an article titled 94 Servant Evangelism Ideas for Your Church. The ideas he lists are certain good, kind things to do for your neighbors. How should we think about such acts in light of evangelism?

When this topic comes up it reminds me of something I call Amway Evangelism. This involves churches hosting events to draw non-Christians and then at some point unexpectedly springing the gospel on them. I use Amway to describe this approach because in the past Amway reps would try to get people to come to business meetings without revealing they were with Amway until somewhere near the end of the meeting. As I’ve thought about this approach to evangelism I’m not sure whether or not Servant Evangelism may be labeled Amway Evangelism.

The beginning of Sjogren’s article is quoted below. I’m curious to hear from people who have used this type of outreach (and, or course, those who haven’t).

Servant Evangelism (SE) connects people to people in a natural, easy, low-risk, high grace way.

Who doesn’t like to be given a cold soda on a hot day? Especially by someone who is smiling, happy, and having fun. SE wins the heart before it confronts the mind. A small act of kindness nudges a person closer to God, often in a profound way, as it bypasses one’s mental defenses. The average Christ-follower is willing to hand a stranger a can of soda (low-risk). The high grace is seen in the typical reaction. “Oh, thank you!” “This is so nice!” “I can’t believe this is for free!” And, “Why are you doing this?”

Kindness builds the bridge for the person to receive a touch of love from God. Add an invitation to church or other method of connection—even a simple card with your church’s name, phone number, and times of services—and you’ve reached someone with the love of Christ! (Click here to read the full article and ideas.)

Does this approach come across as a gimmick? Or is this approach a good one for hopefully sharing the gospel? Is Sjogren correct that such acts nudge “a person closer to God”? Though the most important question is – Is this approach biblical?


tagged as in Church Issues,Culture,Evangelism,Gospel,theology

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Christiane August 19, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Acts of kindness . . . wow!

and people want to know exactly how this fits in with the ‘gospel’ . . . another wow!

sometimes I wonder about Christian people. I remember a Church being ‘crucified’ for trying to help the people from a new Islamic Center being built in their neighborhood . . . and even Mike Huckabee said ‘I don’t know what they could have been thinking.”

kindness? oh my goodness . . . is it possible? could Christians actually spread the ‘Good News’ with acts that show loving-kindness and good will towards others ?

nah . . . but let’s use it anyway to attract people and ‘spring the gospel on them’

I worry sometimes about Christian people these days. A lot.

2 Mark August 19, 2011 at 2:18 pm

I *think* I know what you’re saying, but you are just assuming and asserting your position.

To play devil’s advocate, do you think Paul offered the folks at the Areopagus some water or wine and then started his speech?

Do you understand how some non-Christians may look with skepticism at someone handing them free water whose real intent is to share the gospel?

3 Christiane August 19, 2011 at 2:45 pm

I’m sorry for the comment’s tone . . . but not the concern behind it.
Please forgive the tone.

4 Mark August 19, 2011 at 5:08 pm

No worries.

5 Peter L August 20, 2011 at 10:32 am

Another gimmick. If Christians would just live the life of following Jesus, the Spirit of God would guide them. God doesn’t need man-made gimmickry to get His message to those whom He is going to save.

6 Russ August 20, 2011 at 12:41 pm

How is meeting someone’s physical needs a gimmick? Was Jesus just using gimmicks when he fed the 5000? I would suggest living”the life of following Jesus” probably involves serving others in a physical way as well as living a life of holiness and being a witness to your neighbor.

7 Mark August 20, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Russ, very good point. What was Jesus’ purpose in serving the 5000? I can see how a non-Christian could feel deceived by being served by Christian’s whose motive is to share the gospel and not just serve them. But then we have Jesus in John 6 letting the people walk away from Him because they did not care for His spiritual nourishment.

Your point could be expounded on more deeply.

8 Russ August 20, 2011 at 2:35 pm

I’m sure it could. At the same time, I wouldn’t advocate service as nothing more than an avenue to share The Gospel, but as part of following Jesus by being one aspect of loving your neighbor.

9 J.O. August 25, 2011 at 2:20 am

I don’t think there is anything wrong with giving someone something to drink. I was once given a mini can of Coke on a hot day (from the Coke company) and surely appreciated it and it got my attention. I don’t think it is bad to try it. The reaction though might be quite different in some cultures. Perhaps there are more creative ways to share Christ? I’d be interested in knowing your thoughts. I like this testimony:

10 Andrea October 4, 2011 at 4:40 pm

Some will always be skeptical, some will be receptive…if even one is receptive, it’s worth it!
However I really believe the most effective way is at a personal level, through friendships, evangelism should also utilize a personal approach encouched with the same message essentially…
I am in a class at liberty university which teaches “win them to you. then to your church. then to Christ.” I am not sure I follow or agree. 🙂

11 Mike December 17, 2011 at 8:14 am

I think those who decry servant evangelism are missing the point. Many of us who follow Christ have forgotten that part of the following is to put on the mantle that is Christ. Acts of kindness should be what we wear, naturally as clothing. It is to our shame that the world does not recognise us by our clothing. Steve’s call in writing about servant evangelism is an attempt to get us clothed and in our right minds again.

12 C December 18, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Having done dozens of servant evangelism outreaches, I have 2 comments:

1. They are losing their effectiveness b/c it is not so original any more. The technique has lost its novelty and some appeal/effectiveness.

2. SE training sometimes focuses more on the technique (the means) rather than the end (evangelism). MANY of those handing out water/cokes/etc. would be deer in the headlights b/c they couldn’t answer the seeker’s question ‘What must I do to be saved?’ They were trained to do the work of serving, but little was said about how to introduce Jesus to the transaction.

13 acyberguy June 5, 2013 at 9:01 am

It works, it’s simple and it shows we care without be pushy.

14 Runner05 December 19, 2013 at 9:07 am

I agree with Russ, we should all be doing acts of kindness anyways! No one is ever offended when you lovingly serve them. Now I have done Servant Evangelism in the past, and it was my experience from it that doing those simple programmed acts of kindness was not as scary as actual EVANGELISM and it was received favorably! But what I like about servant evangelism was not just what it did for the recipient but it changes the server as well! I always get a rush when doing servant evangelism, I am full of the Holy Spirit and to watch the barriers of this world melt away when you love somebody unexpectedly brings you closer to Christ. It helps you then when you go back to your work, school, home life to carry out that same principle of putting others first. I know that I can be selfish and self entered at times, servant evangelism helps change my heart to a servants heart. DONT KNOCK IT TILL YOU’VE TRIED IT !!!


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