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 another 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! It’s simple, practical, effective, inexpensive and fun! We get reports from pastors, lay leaders and ordinary Christ-followers all over the world who have discovered the power and impact of “showing God’s love in practical ways,” and again and again we’ve seen relationships with God born from these simple acts of kindness in Christ’s name.
Here are some great ideas to get your church started in servant evangelism:
EASY, LOW-COST GIVEAWAYS
1. Coffee Giveaways
Use either Igloo containers or air pump thermoses. Offer three options: regular, decaf and hot chocolate. On a cool day, you will have folks swarming for a cup of something hot. You will need three or four people to help give away coffee for each big canister. With each drink, we give out a connection card. Consider having paper cups with your church’s name and logo printed.
Some convenience stores will allow you to purchase an entire stack of newspapers. Place a sign on the top of the stack that reads, “Free Newspapers – Courtesy of (Church Name)” and attach a connection card to each paper with removable adhesive.
3.Donut Giveaway during Morning Traffic Time
This giveaway is especially effective when performed by senior citizens— who can say no to a sweet grandma-type? These gals set up on a traffic island at a stoplight (make sure they’re safe out there). When the light turns red, they step up to cars and ask, “Would you like chocolate, maple or glazed?” They then give them a connection card with the snack.
4. Soft Drink Giveaways
“Hi, would you like regular or diet?” This is our standard opening to bless folks with a small act of kindness on a hot day. And it works! We set up at grocery store entrances with large coolers filled with ice and drinks. Buy name-brand drinks instead of the cheaper stuff, and place a connection card under the opener. A courtesy note: Sometimes a location will conflict with vendors selling what you are giving away. Some of the most irate critics we’ve run into have been vendors who conclude we are trying to put them out of business. The answer: Set up in a location away from vendors. In extreme cases, consider asking the vendor how much money he/she anticipates losing by our presence, then give them that amount in cash.
5. Bottled-Water Giveaway
Many people prefer water to soft drinks. Ice down bottles of water in large coolers for an alternative to a soft drink giveaway. Use the same connection cards. We don’t recommend combining this with a soda giveaway, because it offers too many options and gets complicated.
If you are looking for an affordable entry point for a large number of people, consider this one. We purchase the candy at a warehouse store for about five cents per roll. We attach a connection card and give out hundreds of these candies to passersby. Everyone will take a roll of these candies. Consider printing the message of the connection card onto mailing labels and sticking them over the top of the LifeSavers wrapper.
These are great giveaway items for parks, festivals, and college campuses. Purchase at a warehouse store for around six cents apiece, and fold a mailing label with connection information around the stick.
You can either make bags of popcorn before you arrive at your outreach site or consider renting/purchasing your own carnival-style popping machine and do it on the spot. You will draw more of a crowd with the machine on hand.
Have you ever left home for a sporting event only to forget your sunglasses? Many sporting events attendees experience this every weekend. We have purchased large quantities of sunglasses for as little as a quarter a pair.
10.Ice Cream Coupons
Approach a local ice cream store and explain your desire to give away thousands of ice cream coupons. Chances are the owner/manager will be willing to give you a good deal on ice cream coupons. Attach a connection card to each coupon, and you’ll have a project that will elicit a response from just about everyone in town.
Moms with kids and the elderly find it tough to make it from stores to their cars in the rain. We use huge golf umbrellas to help get them and their purchases to their cars with as little wetness as possible.
12.Grocery Bag Loading Assistance
Moms with lots of kids hanging on them like koalas often need assistance getting their bags loaded into the car from the shopping cart. The elderly need the same sort of help. Volunteers on this project need to appear particularly safe and friendly; name-tags or coordinating T-shirts identifying connection to your organization makes the servants look more “official.” Note: On this project, almost everyone will try to give a tip, but as with all kindness projects, to receive money would taint what you are trying to communicate: “God’s love in a practical package with no strings attached.” This project may require permission from the store manager on the day of the event.
13.Bag-Packing at Self-Serve Grocers
Increasing numbers of grocery stores are cutting out services such as bag-packing. Place volunteers at these stores to pack bags for customers. Again, name-tags or coordinating T-shirts or aprons help the baggers look more official and identify the connection with your organization. The first time we volunteered to do this, the manager was skeptical, but the feeling quickly melted. We’ve received reports from all over the US that this project is very effective.
There is lots of trash to pick up at festivals and sports events. Buy garbage bags, wear matching T-shirts and plastic gloves, and bring a sign to put up that says, “Kindness in Progress” while you pick up trash. People will notice.
Small investment + some elbow grease = big return. Set up in front of a grocery store on a Saturday, or perhaps in front of a barbershop. This is a great project to get talking with people; you have a captive audience while you serve!
16.Restroom Cleaning at Public Places
This is Steve Sjogren’s favorite project. There’s nothing like walking into a gas station, restaurant, or retail store and saying to the manager, “We’d like to clean your toilet for free!” Put a little cleaning kit together containing a toilet brush, air freshener, window cleaner, paper towels, toilet bowl cleaner, rubber gloves, and a doorstop. There’s nothing magical about the technique here. Steve has cleaned commodes all over the world and says they are all pretty much the same as the ones in your home. Note: This is probably one of the most frequently rejected projects we do, probably because they offer to clean a toilet is a bit overwhelming. No matter—give them your connection card, smile, and say, “OK! We’ll come back some other time and clean when you need it. We’re just trying to show you God’s love in a practical way.”
17. Business Blasts
Surprise employees of local businesses with a small gift, such as a basket of candy. Bring in one package to be shared by store employees and leave a connection card that reads something like, “We appreciate how you serve the community with your business, and we wanted to share God’s love in a practical way.” Make sure you only give items to employees, so they don’t think you are “soliciting” their customers.
18.Soft Drink Giveaway to Employees
What can you do when denied permission to give away soft drinks in front of a prime retail location? Offer to give soft drinks to the employees. As usual, place the connection card on top.
19.Stamps in Front of the Post Office
One church holds a major stamp outreach on April 15th for late tax-filers. Not only do they give out stamps, but they also offer coffee and donuts— stress recovery food. Volunteers stand by the mail drop-off boxes with a card table filled with food and stamps.
20.Gatorade at Biking Trails
Some health-conscious folks like runners, bikers, and other people don’t drink soda at all. Set up at along a bike trail, athletic field, or hiking trail and offer Gatorade or bottled water to exercisers.
21.Pay Library Fines
Leave $20.00 at the front desk in the local library, and instruct the clerk to use it for the next person who has fines. Leave a connection card in an envelope for the person, so they can see why the fine was paid.
Who says non-surfers can’t relate to surfers? Buy the current popular brand of wax and hit the beach, dude! It’s a definite door-, or rather board-, opener.
23.Pictionary in the Park
This was a popular game in the late 1980’s similar to Charades. Set up in a local park and play the game using a whiteboard to draw hints. Complete strangers will start to join in, especially if your group is friendly and animated. When onlookers correctly guess the answer, allow them to play the next round. After 15-20 minutes, take a break, serve soft drinks and talk to the visitors one-to-one.
The average golfer loses three or four balls per outing, so give away imprinted golf balls on the local golf course. Imprinting your church’s name and message on golf balls is surprisingly affordable, and if it’s lost on the course, another golfer will pick it up later and get your message.
Golfers can never get enough of these. Imprinted golf tees cost just a couple of cents apiece. Some golf courses will even give them away for you at their counter.
26.Golf Ball Cleaning
Sure, there are ball-cleaning machines spread throughout most golf courses, but most players don’t take the time. With permission of the course, set up a simple clean up station and clean golf balls before golfers begin around. Most golfers carry dozens of balls in their bag.
27.Cleaning Up at Food Courts
If you can get your foot in the door at your local mall, ask if you can do clean-up in the food court area. Along with a connection card, consider distributing handy-wipes with your logo imprinted on them.
28. Upsizing Food Orders in Fast Food Drive-Thru Lanes
Set-up near the drive-thru order station. As customers drive up, offer to pay the difference between their order and the bigger size—which is usually about 39 cents. Your offer will get the entire restaurant talking.
29.Free Bird Feeders and Refills to Convalescent Home Residents
Provide an acrylic bird feeder—the kind with suction cups that stick right to the window. Return occasionally to refill the bird feeder and check in on your new elderly friend. Note: Most outreaches to those in convalescent homes will touch their extended family, as well.
30.Bait at Local Fishing Spots
Those who fish with live bait need worms, grubs, goldfish, minnows, or whatever. Purchase these critters in large quantities from a bait shop, go to the local fishing hot-spot and give them away. This brings new meaning to the verse from Psalm 51, “I am a worm and not a man.”
31.Pay Laundromat Washer and Dryer
Bring a roll or two of quarters and dimes. As patrons enter, ask them if they’d like a hot or cold wash. You can also provide detergent. Note: This is a project that works best for women—it’s a bit odd for men to reach out to women in this setting.
32.Instant Photos for Couples
A couple will hold on to a decent photo of themselves for years. Set up at a local carriage ride or another common spot for couples and take instant-print photos of them. If you want to get fancy, offer a photo frame that is tailor-made for the size. Attach a sticker of your church’s logo and phone number on the back.
33.Hand Cleaning Towelettes
Pretty much everything in downtown shopping areas is a bit dirty, but there’s really no place to wash up. Give people these towelettes labeled with your organization’s message.
34.Cart Token for Shopping Carts
Some grocery stores in urban areas require a token in order to get a shopping cart. Provide the tokens to shoppers as they enter.
35.Gasoline for Your Neighbor
How many people do you see buying less than a tank of gas when you fill ‘er up? We see it happening all the time—they can’t afford a full tank of gas at today’s prices. Add $5.00 to their total and blow their minds. Of course, add in a connection card.
36.Steaks and Salmon for Firefighters
Since 9/11, the general public has been made even more aware of the tremendous job that firefighters and police officers do day in and day out. Show them a little kindness by providing some steaks or salmon to grill. Let them know in advance that you are coming, so they can have the grill fired up. Firefighters are a great group to serve—they really appreciate it and talk a lot in the community.
“We came, we saw, we raked!” Several people in a small group can rake an entire neighborhood on a single Saturday morning. Maybe you don’t like raking your own yard; but when you’re with a group of friends serving in the name of Christ, a chore becomes a joy. Many yards take only fifteen to twenty minutes to polish off. Note: If possible, go to neighborhoods where the city vacuums leaves left on the curb (some do). If you bag them, make sure to remove the bags and dispose of them yourself instead of leaving them for the homeowners.
Look for long grass, knock on the door, and go for it. Several mowers make this short work.
If you don’t have time to mow an entire lawn, edge the driveway and sidewalks. Most homeowners don’t edge very often, so they are in need of it and are grateful.
40. Rain Gutter Cleaning
This is messy work but very appreciated by homeowners, especially in the fall. You will need some ladders, trash bags, and gloves.
41. Sidewalk Sweeping
In urban areas, this is a huge hit. Residents are sometimes required by neighborhood associations or city codes to sweep the area in front of their homes.
42. Screen Cleaning
Screens will have to be removed. Apply a bit of soapy water and use a soft brush. Hose them off and reinstall. Most homeowners never do this, though it is an easy way to improve the view.
43. Garbage Can Return from Street
This is a project you could do for an entire street each week. Usually, garbage pick up is done early in the morning—be the first one out. Return the cans to a place near each person’s garage (but do it quietly!). Scotch tape a connection card to the lid of each can.
44.Door-to-Door Carnation Giveaway
Carnations are affordable, and everyone likes them. This giveaway project can be done anytime, but Mother’s Day is a particularly good excuse.
A handful of tulip bulbs is very affordable. When they come up in years to come, that person will reflect on your act of generosity.
46.Potted Plant Giveaways
Marigolds and impatiens can be purchased affordably in numbers. Mums are great in the fall. Small poinsettias are a great touch at Christmas.
47.Flower Seed Packet Giveaways
Give out flower seeds to celebrate spring. Some companies offer the option of printing your church name on the outside of the packet.
Spray for weeds in cracks in the sidewalk and areas where weeds thrive. Wear rubber gloves.
49.Tree Limb Trimming
Purchase an extending trimmer with a saw and pulley clipper. Beware of electric lines. Before trimming any limbs, get approval from the homeowner.
Bundle up scrap wood and give it out in the fall. Attach your connection message on the binding.
Distribute school supplies house-to-house, especially in needy neighborhoods whose residents include many children.
I was surprised at the popularity of this one. People really like fresh fruit, and they will readily take it. This one goes over great guns across the U.S. An orange, an apple, and a banana along with a connection card in a clear plastic bag is enough. This also works well door-to-door.
53.Sunday Morning Paper and Coffee Giveaways
Purchase a number of Sunday papers, brew excellent coffee, and visit your neighbors. Look for the houses that don’t have a paper in the driveway, but be sure you don’t knock on the door too early!
People often love their pets like family members. Either make from scratch a great doggie treat or buy them from a pet shop (many shops now offer high-end treats for pets). Wrap several with a ribbon and a connection card and give them out at parks or dog runs.
55.Doggie Dirt Cleanup
It’s an unsavory job, but someone has to do it. Jesus said, “If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, be the servant of all.” Actually, it’s not that tough with the right equipment—you can find specialized scooper equipment at a local pet store. Give a connection card to pet owners and park officials in the area.
This is a great outreach opportunity for kids. Go through a park or your local neighborhood looking for dogs and their owners. Use a vet-recommended dog shampoo sold in pet stores. Two ten-year-old boys recently touched their entire neighborhood by blanketing all the houses with a homemade flyer explaining their project. They later reported washing sixteen dogs and one reluctant cat. They also provided a flea collar to each clean pet.
This is an effective, practical service. We offer a car wash every week in the summer. Have a professionally made banner or sign that says “Totally Free Car Wash!” or “Free—No Kidding—Car Wash!” Have a few extroverted, friendly people cheerfully yell at cars driving by, “Free Car Wash!” (Former cheerleaders are great for this role!) This outreach needs a good project manager to organize volunteers, car flow, and ensure a quality job.
58.Single Moms’ Oil Change
This is a great stand-alone project for a Saturday morning in the church parking lot. We provide this service strictly to single moms, though not necessarily just those in our church. This will require a team of folks with knowledge of auto maintenance basics. There are hundreds of sizes of auto filters, so get sign-ups before the event. Note: This will not work at a filling station; the liability to the owner is unreasonable.
Set up a station in the corner of a shopping center parking lot. Use a sign that reads, “Free Light Bulb Exam and Replacement.” There are only a few common bulb types used in domestic and foreign cars; have an assortment of these available. With just a few basic tools (screwdrivers), just about anyone can pull this one-off. Don’t use powered screwdrivers— they are more likely to break lens covers.
60.Hot Dog Grilling
Like ’em or not, grilled hot dogs bring everyone together. Even when you provide the dogs, buns, and condiments, this is an affordable outreach. We put up a banner that reads, “It’s Party Time!” Provide music, and you’ve got a party that will draw strangers like a magnet.
Bring a team of clowns to hand out candy or balloons. This adds fun and excitement to the atmosphere of sharing God’s love.
62.Memorial Services for the Unchurched
We have begun to do gratis memorial services for the families of the unchurched. As you reach out to the community with this kind of love and support, you will increasingly find that those you serve will consider you their church, even though they are hardly connected with you.
63.Food Delivery to Shut-ins
Find legitimate shut-ins in your neighborhood. Start a system with interested neighbors for weekly hot food delivery. This is a great outreach opportunity for pre-Christians in your church; they are often interested in helping others even though they don’t yet know Christ, and a project like this could easily be an entry point to their hearts.
WINTER & CHRISTMAS
Men’s groups take on their neighborhoods with snow shovels and snow blowers and go door-to-door explaining the project. The snow blowers aren’t necessary but very helpful. Most drives and sidewalks can be finished in a matter of minutes. Be sure to bring coffee and hot chocolate for the workers and neighbors who stop by to watch.
65.Windshield Ice Scraping at Apartment Complexes
Scrape first, ask questions later. Place a connection card on the clean windshield when finished.
66.Windshield Ice Scrapers
Scrapers last a year or less, so early in the season, most drivers need another one. Imprint scrapers with your church name, or attach a sticker with your message on it, and leave them on car windshields.
67.Retrieving Cars Stuck in Snow
On heavy snow days, send out teams with four-wheel-drive trucks. Using chains and other safety equipment, pull the cars out. Carry pots of coffee and hot chocolate to warm up those you help. A cell phone is helpful if you need to call for reinforcements.
68.Christmas Gift Wrapping
Wrap Christmas presents for free for mall shoppers. Depending on your mall, you may have to rent the space, purchase the materials, and do it at the hours they ask. On the other hand, some malls give free space, provide the materials and are very accommodating regarding wrapping hours. You aren’t in competition with the fancy department stores—they do a classy job, but you can help those in a hurry, those with few or small gifts, or those who just can’t afford to spend money on fancy wrapping.
Shoppers are terribly burdened at Christmas. Set up a booth at the mall with a package checking system, and watch over their packages until they’re finished shopping. You will be able to talk with them when they drop off their packages and when they return.
70.Child Care During Christmas Shopping
There are some liability issues to take into consideration, but this can be a very helpful project during the holidays. Obviously, you will need to get some help with professional child care workers to do this right and wisely.
Who doesn’t need Scotch tape at Christmas? This has been one of our most popular giveaways—it definitely is a practical way to show God’s love.
72.Caroling and Candy Canes
Organize a caroling group and go house-to-house in neighborhoods. Take candy canes or a small gift to give, as well. For another spin, go with low- income areas, especially inner-city urban ones, and take hot chocolate and cookies and serve the residents.
Take small poinsettia plants as “house-to-house” gifts.
A few days before Christmas, lot owners are willing to give the trees away. With pickup trucks, deliver them to financially stretched single-parent families.
Give out chocolate hearts for Valentine’s Day in busy downtown areas or in front of stores. This is an excellent way to do a “giveaway.” Rather than ask “Would you like…” say, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” and give them a heart and a connection card. You will get very few rejections. Purchase high-quality chocolate for a greater effect.
Hand out roses or carnations in busy downtown areas or in front of busy stores. Even men find this appealing because they can give them away! Hand a flower and a connection card.
77.Easter: Butterfly Cocoons
From the beginning of church history, the butterfly has been a symbol of the resurrection of Christ. Death, change, and life is all found in the cocoon. You can actually buy butterfly cocoons online; it’s even possible to purchase cocoons that can be timed to hatch on a given day—within a day or so, anyway. One Easter, we distributed several thousand of these with a special connection card; we gave them out on Good Friday, and they hatched on Easter Sunday. This project is best designed for churches in mild climates.
78.Independence Day Giveaways
Blow-pops and gumballs are a big hit for the Fourth of July. Small American flags are also popular. After dark, glow-in-the-dark necklaces, bracelets, or sticks are really effective.
Although many churches do not endorse this holiday, it’s the second-largest holiday in the United States in terms of money spent. We use this event to connect with pre-Christians in ways they can understand. The Saturday before Halloween, throw a costume party during the day (positive costumes—nothing scary). Group everyone in teams of 4-6. Go house-to-house and give away candy. Say, “No tricks, just a treat to show God’s love.” Don’t let them accept any candy from residents; only give away bags of candy. Leave a connection card or have a special one designed just for this. Make sure to give out high-quality candy. This outreach has been very effective; people are caught off-guard when we give them something!
COLLEGE CAMPUS OUTREACH
80.Trash Pick-up for Students near Campuses
Start visiting local apartment complexes where students live, asking residents if you can take their garbage out for them. The first time you may get a not-so-good response, but over time people will recognize you and will trust you more. Consider visiting on Sunday afternoons around two, so you’ll catch everybody waking up from their Saturday nights with hangovers and a ton of trash.
Many students ride bicycles to class. They often need tune-ups, including tightening brakes, aligning gears, and greasing ball-bearings. Setting up a shop can save students money and provide an opportunity to get to know them.
82.Post Cards and Stamps
College students do actually write home on occasion. Provide postcards complete with postage with a sticker that reads, “It’s good to write your mom!” Include your connection card.
Purchase photocopying coupons at a reduced rate at a local copy center near the college campus. The price shouldn’t be more than about five cents per copy. Give these punch cards out on campus. Place the church logo and phone number on the card.
They may not be all that healthy, but they are popular among students. They are good hot or cold. Students will take them to eat later, even if they’ve already had breakfast.
85.Test Essay Booklets and Answer Sheets
Many professors require that exams be done on particular testing materials that the students must purchase themselves. These can include testing booklets, scan-friendly answer sheets, and #2 pencils. They aren’t expensive, but they are necessary (particularly around midterms and finals) and readily available at campus bookstores. Purchase them in large numbers at a discount and distribute them with an attached connection card.
86.Coffee and Tea During Late-Night Study Sessions
A little TLC goes a long way. Build a cart that can be wheeled around from dorms to libraries to study areas. This one will have to be manned by non- students.
87.Pizza on Move-In Day at the Dorms
If you want to get the attention of an entire dorm, give away pizza. You will hardly need signs—the aroma will do all the marketing you need. Negotiate a discount with the pizza restaurant for large volumes, or the vendor may be willing to give you the pizza in return for an endorsement.
Prepare and give away care packages for an entire dorm. Include items like packages of hot chocolate, microwave popcorn, cookies, mints, and gum. The total cost will be much less than a dollar apiece. These can be distributed through student mailboxes or a box in the lobby. Make sure to get permission from the dorm first.
89.Phone Cards for Long Distance Calls
These cards make great giveaways. Contact long-distance companies to find a good deal. Some companies offer a program that allows you to insert a custom message which plays before people access their free minutes.
RADICAL SERVICE IDEAS
At local malls where any sort of programmatic evangelism is not allowed, this is a way to get the attention of many people very quickly. We take a dollar bill and attach a connection card explaining our project (use removable adhesive). Then we go to a shopping mall and nonchalantly drop dollar bills on the ground. For some free entertainment, stand a distance away and watch who picks up the dollar and how they respond to the message.
Do you know people who can’t walk past a payphone without checking the coin-return? Here’s an outreach just for those folks! We place a sticker on one side of the quarter and place these loaded quarters in coin-returns of vending machines of various sorts. This one also works by just placing the coin on the ground or on a bench. Note: Make sure the sticker is larger than the quarter. There are some folks out there who will leave the sticker on the quarter and try to insert it into the phone or vending machine—then you’ll get a call from a repairman!
92. Buy Down Gas to Bargain Price
Instead of paying the dollar-plus price, buy down the price to a remarkable rate for a couple of hours and pay the difference to the station owner. When local prices were $1.29 per gallon, we put up signs advertising a price of $0.99. When customers come in, we give them a connection card that briefly explains our project. The total we spent for the two hours usually ran from $400-500 per station. Each time we’ve done this outreach, we’ve got a fantastic response.
93.Purchasing Meals at the Food Court
One small group meets regularly at the mall and takes a spontaneous offering among themselves. Then they approach one of the managers of a fast-food restaurant or a food court stand and offer, “We’d like to pay the bill for as many customers as this amount of money will pay for.” On one recent outreach, this group paid for $125 worth of food—that was about one hour’s worth of sales. The manager became so excited, he was explaining the gospel himself to the customers, even though he was a burned-out church attendee. Go figure!
94. What Has Your Church Done?
In what ways has your church shown God’s love in helpful ways to open an avenue for Christ in their hearts? How have you made kindness outreach “doable” in your church?