I people watched this afternoon from my favorite perch in the big 2nd floor window of the children's section of Borders on the corners of Broad and Chestnut streets here in Center City, Philadelphia. It's a busy intersection with a wide array of bike messengers, taxis, cars, business people, buses, students, homeless men, and people headed to Borders (probably in order to look at books, not people), etc.
In midst of the hub-bub on the corner was a guy in a red shirt and green Phillies cap. He worked for Save the Children. I'm sure I've seen and ignored him before. His role seemed to be to connect with people, convince them of the worthiness of giving to the cause, and then compel them to commit in writing to a monetary donation. Connect, convince, compel. In the hour that I watched, he was mostly unsuccessful at all three.
He approached literally hundreds of people trying various approaches - offering a hand to shake (I guess because he was convinced that people like shaking hands with strangers), jumping out in front of them (one girl was running - he almost made her fall - if she had I would have laughed but felt bad about it), sneaking up behind them (a real favorite of the ladies he surprised), getting in their face (as if people respond to a stranger in close proximity to their personal space), or simply trying to solicit their attention (with his charm and good looks). Most people simply ignored him or offered an excuse as to why they needed to keep moving - and keep moving they did. Virtually no connections were made. Lots of effort - no connection. There were times that he visibly look discouraged.
The 3 people that did stop did so out of apparent courtesy, but rarely stayed around long enough for him to be very convincing. Their conversation was short. He made his best pitch in the time that the crosswalk sign said "don't walk", but inevitably, the sign changed and courtesy ended. It's not that saving the children was a bad cause. It's not even that these people had to be convinced that it was a good cause (who doesn't like saving the children?). It's just that whatever else was going on for these people was much more pressing that this one dude trying to convince them to respond to the good cause he was peddling.
Not a single person was compelled to do or give anything. The one person that did spend an extended period of time with him (maybe 2 minutes) walked away rather abruptly without feeling compelled to give anything (beside the time she already had "wasted"). As she walked away, he continue his pitch, practically begging her to stay. She wasn't interested. I felt like I was watching a bad break-up.
To be honest, the only actual conversation of any apparent depth was had with another Save the Children solicitor who was working in the same area and happened to walk by. These two guys had a good old time chatting it up as hundreds more passed them by.
Is this the best approach for Save the Children to be taking? One hour of work. Hundreds and hundreds of missed opportunities. Hundreds of rejections. Only three actual "connections". Not one person convinced of anything. Not one person compelled to give. And a lot of time spent with someone who was already on board with Save the Children. Paying someone to stand on a corner like a street preacher handing out tracks seems to me like a waste of time and money.
My obvious connection here is the Church (you should have seen that coming). Do we really continue to think that evangelism by way of connection, convincing, and compelling is the most effective way to further the kingdom? I hope not. If it is, should we really be spending so much time with people who are already on board? Probably not. I hope we're still willing to reimagine how to do it better...some of us are.