There are commonly two types of evangelistic interview, and the preparation will vary depending on which you are using. There is a 5 minute interview which is just one part of an event or service; and there is a 20–25 minute extended interview which is the main item on the programme of an evangelistic event.
For both types of interview the aim is the same, namely to point non-Christians to Christ and commend him to them. The way the interview achieves this is not simply by explaining the gospel (though that may be a part of it), the emphasis rather is on showing how the gospel has impacted someone’s life. It is their personal story of how the gospel and their life have come together, and the difference that it has made.
So the distinction between an evangelistic interview and an evangelistic talk is not just the means of communication (interview rather than monologue) but also the content. It is important to clarify this with the interviewee. You’re not just asking them to explain the gospel but you want them to share their personal story, which is unique to them. A separate evangelistic talk is ideally the main vehicle for explaining the gospel.
Of course, the fact that the interview is evangelistic shapes how the interviewee should express themselves. They should aim for simplicity and clarity (assuming they are talking to a non-Christian who knows virtually nothing of the Christian faith). And they should avoid Christian jargon. Saying that ‘January the 14th was the day of my justification, when I was washed in the blood of the Lamb and was saved’ is not going to mean much to the non-Christian and will just be off-putting. It can be helpful for the interviewee to imagine they are addressing a non-Christian neighbour for whom it is their first time at a church event.
The interviewee needs to be honest and truthful. They must not make things up to add spice to their story, nor should they play down the challenges and struggles of the Christian life. Someone who is from a Christian background should beware of feeling apologetic, as if they have nothing much to share. Someone from a non-Christian background should beware of being ashamed of what they used to be like, or conversely being proud of what a rebel they were and glorifying that. The hero of the story needs to be Jesus, not them.
It’s always worth sending the questions to the interviewee ahead of the event so they have time to prepare. For a 5 minute interview there are three main questions you could ask:
- What was life like before becoming a Christian?
- How did they come to start following Jesus?
- What has life been like since?
In an extended 20 minute interview, the questions could seek to unpack their story chronologically, or it could explore various themes in any order. See the article ‘How to run a testimony-based evangelistic event’ for more on this.
Choose questions that will be helpful and interesting to the non-Christian. We don’t want to know how the interviewee goes about evangelism at work, or what their view on predestination is. When we interviewed Jeremy Marshall, for example, we explored his former life as a bank CEO, and then what happened when he was diagnosed with cancer, and what difference his Christian faith has made facing that challenge, and also what life looks like for him now.
As the interviewer, your role is to be a facilitator – to help the person to tell their story by asking good questions. Ask open questions and keep your own input short and sweet. The focus should be on them not on you. But even so, it should feel like a natural conversation.
Make sure the interviewee is clear how long the interview is, so they know roughly how long they have to answer each question. That said, it is your job as interviewer, not theirs, to keep an eye on the clock and keep things moving and to time.
Encourage them to speak in terms that are specific and concrete, as opposed to general and abstract. So not just ‘One evening I was at an event and became a Christian’ but rather ‘I went to an event at my local church on the resurrection of Jesus. And this is how I felt. And this is what it made me think.’
Make sure you set up the room appropriately. A 5 minute interview can be done standing up but an extended interview works better sitting on barstools with a coffee table. Avoid squishy sofas or armchairs which you sink into and encourage mumbling. Radio microphones are ideal (we’ve found that a stand microphone forms a barrier between you and the audience).
It feels much more natural if the interviewee doesn’t have notes. You can have notes as the interviewer, but know them well. An interviewee who has not done something like this before should be encouraged to just be him/herself; to avoid filling in silences with ‘ums’ and ‘ers’; to beware of speaking too quickly; and to speak not just to the interviewer but to the audience.
Pray with them beforehand, and assure them the Holy Spirit will use what they say.