Ok, I admit it. I am evangelistically impaired. For years I justified my inaction my telling myself that evangelism just wasn't my gift. I countered my inactivity by hiring associate pastors who were evangelistic. The few attempts I did make were embarrassing failures. Sjogren's book helped change my ministry. By doing simple acts of kindness, we influenced our friends and neighbors for Christ, and yes, even won some souls for Jesus.
Sjogren's thesis is simplicity in itself. Do acts of kindness towards people we don't know, and couple it a simple gospel message, i.e., "Showing God's love in a practical way, no strings attached." It works.
Any pitfalls? A few. There is no need to repeat the insightful critiques given in previous reviews, but we found that there were a few pitfalls we had to work hard to avoid. There is a tendency when performing these acts of kindness not to link the gospel message with the act. One of my team members when delivering pizzas to the firehouse announced, "We just want to thank you for doing a great job." No mention of Jesus. No mention of God's love. No mention of the local church that gave the pizza. As far as I was concerned, it was sixty bucks out the window.
Another pitfall is that in small communities you can run the well dry. Our little town has a population of only 1500, and we soon developed a reputation as the "pop" people (we gave away a lot of Coke) that year. Hence, we are no longer using "Acts of Kindness' as our primary evangelism tool. We are much more direct now, but we are grateful for Sjogren for helping us start down the evangelism road.
"Servant evangelism" is transforming the Church's understanding of how to evangelize. Sjogren's ideas as encapsulated in "Conspiracy of Kindness" involve reaching out to a community through acts of kindness. These simple acts allow people in the church who may never have witnessed to anyone before (via the Four Spiritual Laws, The Bridge or one of Evangelism Explosion's techniques) to impact others via guiltless, stressless, low-risk, high grace actions instead of words. God's love is shown to someone in a practical way. For the storeowner, a group might clean his toilets. A neighborhood might be canvassed with offers of free batteries for smoke alarms. Free car washes and even having the church pay for a large part of someone's gasoline bill at a fuel stop are other ways to reach people with the message that God loves them deeply. Cards explaining the reason for this gift are handed out along with the gift, and information about the church is included on the back of the card. No pressure is exerted, no money taken, and for those who are so moved by the gift, people are on hand to share the Gospel more completely.
In light of a recent George Barna survey that put evangelical Christians right below prostitutes in terms of credibility and public opinion, Sjogren's radical revisioning of how to evangelize also carries with it the opportunity for churches to makes amends for perceptions. As a member of Sjogren's church for many years, I've personally seen how effective these methods are. People sometimes break down weeping when someone hands them a free can of soda with no other expectation than the receiver be blessed by it. The church has grown at light speed as a result.
"Conspiracy of Kindness" addresses the depth of these ideas in a far greater way than any review can. The book examines the failures of modern evangelism, why this method is superior, it's biblical basis, the idea of scattering seed constantly, how to implement servant evangelism in a church, and how using these ideas can transform individuals and small groups in their ministries.
But "Conspiracy of Kindness" is not without issues.
The Bible states that the reason people came into the Church was not so much that the Church was kind to outsiders but that it was kind to insiders. It was the love that early Christians had for each other that caused the world to wonder. Sjogren states that how we "treat [the unchurched] is the litmus test of our spiritual health." In fact, he has it reversed: everything starts in the House of God. If we do not sacrificially love our brethren, we cannot hope to ever reach outsiders.
Unfortunately, servant evangelism techniques can be adopted without a truly Christian message. Without a unique message, this method of evangelism is a hook with no meat on it. Other non-Christian religious organizations are adopting these methods and are using them to effectively bring in people in similar amounts. We have to be poised to offer Christ relentlessly or else we will end up looking no different from the others who are using these ideas but without Christ.
Servant evangelism by its very nature can appeal to a consumer mentality. It creates an expectation in people that Christ exists to fulfill one's wishes. That this mentality is becoming increasingly common in evangelical Christianity is to our shame, and even brings to question just what kind of salvation people may have come to. The literature given with servant evangelism gifts states the gift comes "with no strings attached". The truth is, if followed to its natural end, that gift is meant to help eventually bring someone to a point of dying to self and surrendering his or her whole being to Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "When Christ bids a man, He bids him come and die." That's a pretty big string and becomes more so if avoided early on. Shouldn't we be setting this expectation immediately when we are doing servant evangelism?
Because so little is asked of people who participate in servant evangelism projects other than to show up, it tends to let people doing it off the hook theologically. The average person handing out a soda doesn't truly need to know how to communicate a Biblical pathway of salvation to someone who might ask. Certainly someone asking can be referred to a more knowledgeable person on the team, but shouldn't we be spending time with everyone showing them how to communicate the Gospel verbally? Faith does come from hearing the Word of God, does it not?
One key point of the book sounds like a Nike ad: "Just Do It". Sjogren calls this "Ready, Fire, Aim" - tune the outreach over time rather than simply keeping it stuck in a committee, always discussing, but never doing. Steve is right in saying that the biggest problem lies in even getting started, but the Bible clearly states that we must consider leaders and plans of action thoughtfully through the Spirit - and that takes time sometimes. Anything else becomes spiritually lazy and can cause situations where good people get "shot" accidentally because time was not taken to "aim" at the target.
As with any new idea that comes across the Body of Christ today we have a tendency to go rushing over to see how it works, abandoning whatever we were doing where we were. Still, if you are part of a church that has never tried servant evangelism, then by all means do so. But be very careful to make sure that you incorporate old evangelism techniques with the new. Work to overcome inherent weaknesses in this model. Find a way to think about other radical ways to not only reach the lost, but your own comrades in the pews. If a middle ground is kept and the focus on Christ is not lost, you will surely meet success in winning others to Christ.