Outflow, written by Steve Sjogren and David Ping, is a group study book aimed at small groups that want to try their hand at servant evangelism, a methodology of evangelism that emphasizes random acts of kindness.
The main metaphor in Outflow is the concentric circles of a multi-tiered fountain, that parallels the concentric circles of influence seen in Acts (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, ends of the earth).
Outflow’s target audience seems to be those who have a fear of any kind of conversational evangelism, which in my experience includes a large number of people.
Even more so, Outflow seems aimed at those who have many negative images of evangelism. Servant evangelism gives the reader a way to express their faith.
Outflow isn’t so much about sharing the faith in words as it is demonstrating the faith in love, and maybe talking about your faith when asked.
The Layout of Outflow
- reflection questions
- an exercise for homework
Each week’s reading ends with a group project and includes some debriefing questions.
These practical suggestions are what caught my eye.
Instead of simply leaving it to the group to brainstorm all the time, these practical exercises suggested one particular action step that would be easy to implement. Groups that implement the action steps will make a big impact in the community around them.
Two Ends of the Evangelism Spectrum
At one end of the spectrum, you have word based evangelism styles, like the way of the master stuff, tract distribution and other forms of gospel presentations.
At the other end of the spectrum, you have the deed based evangelism style, like servant evangelism.
The former focuses on communicating the truth through a scripted monologue to lead to a decision to accept or reject Christ.
Demonstrate truth first.
The later focuses on demonstrating acts of love, answering the occasional question, and planting the seeds for future conversation.
Demonstrate love first.
For many believers who find the former model of evangelism too negative and intimidating, the later model gives them plenty of room to express their faith.
However, for those that believe that the former model is high priority, Outflow will frustrate them as it doesn’t talk at all about how to actually talk about your personal faith. The one chapter that comes close is about planting seeds for future conversation.
A Broader Appeal
Outflow will have a much broader appeal to small groups that want to express their faith in tangible ways, rather than memorize a scripted monologue to present to strangers.
For small groups that want to add some kind of missional component to their purpose, a study through Outflow could help provide that expression (though I don’t recall the word “missional” being used).
The practical exercises in Outflow can help a group find some practical ways to express God’s love in the community in which they were planted.
One missing ingredient
If I were leading an Outflow group, I would add a practical part in how to actually talk about what your faith means to you.
Servant evangelism as presented in Outflow is an awesome tool to express God’s love and plant seeds for future conversation.
However, Outflow to miss helping a person grow comfortable talking about your own faith in the process and what is the gospel.
Outflow is all about seed planting, and not really about how to water or harvest a seed that’s been planted.
I would add sections about
- how to recognize spiritual thirst,
- how to cooperate with the Holy Spirit,
- how to talk about your own faith in Jesus, and
- how to listen for receptivity to the call to surrender your life to Jesus.
These additional pieces are beyond the scope of the book, but I think they remain vital core training to anyone doing a servant evangelism project.
You might very well encounter someone who has been prepared by God for that moment, like the Ethiopian eunuch was in Acts 8. Your Outflow Group members would need some idea of what to do.
As a leader of the group, I would use these ideas in the exercise debriefings each week to help group members grow comfortable not only in random acts of kindness, but talking about their faith more frequently while doing random acts of kindness.
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