In a talk-based event the hook for the non-Christian is the talk title. If the title doesn’t interest them, they are unlikely to come. In a testimony-based event the hook is the person and their story. ‘Come and hear this person tell their story!’ will appeal to some people more than ‘Come and hear a talk on this topic’. Testimony events are more personal, and can be very powerful.
As the testimony is the main item on the programme, the time allocated to that part of the evening needs to be substantial enough to make it the central focus. We’ve found that somewhere between 20–25 minutes works best.
Given the length, the dynamic of an interview works well too. It also means that the interviewer can draw points out, ask for clarifications and keep things moving and to time.
Our preferred format is to open with a social time of food and drink, followed by a testimony, then a short gospel talk and finish with a Q&A. So the timings might look like this:
- Food and drink – 20 minutes
- Testimony interview – 25 minutes
- Gospel talk – 10 minutes
- Q&A – 10 minutes
You could have a mission week with a different testimony each evening, or one a week over several weeks (eg. four consecutive Friday evenings). For our events in the past we’ve used the label ‘One Thing in Common’.
It is good to go for a variety of interviewees – men and women from different backgrounds and contexts. Think about the types of interests people have and base your categories on those: sport, business, finance, fashion, politics, science, food. Different ones will appeal to different people in your community. Beware of just planning a line-up that reflects your own personal interests.
Before inviting someone to be an interviewee, make sure they believe the gospel and are faithful to the Bible.
It’s also important to prepare thoroughly for the interview, rather than just winging it on the day. Find out the person’s story in detail, ideally by interviewing them yourself beforehand. Work out what questions you are going to ask them, and then send them the questions well ahead of the event so they can think through what they’re going to say.
Don’t compromise gospel faithfulness and orthodoxy for the sake of a vaguely ‘Christian’ big-name celebrity on your publicity. One church in London had people queuing around the block for a testimony event because the interviewee was such a big name. But the feedback afterwards was that there was no clear testimony to Jesus at all and it was a wasted opportunity.
If the event is going to include a gospel talk after the testimony, it can be powerful to have the interviewee do it. People will be receptive to them, having just heard their story. But only do this if you trust the person to be clear on the gospel. If you’re not sure, do it yourself. We learned this the hard way. At one event, we hadn’t done our homework and the speaker ended up saying things about judgement with which we disagreed, and we had to pick up the pieces afterwards.
When advertising the event, focus on the person who is going to tell their story, e.g. ‘Paralympic Record Holder’ or ‘Drug Dealer’. But if you are having a short talk as well, you can have the talk title as an additional hook. For instance, ‘Investment House CEO’ plus the talk title ‘Is belief in Jesus delusional?’ That way you have two hooks for the non-Christian.
On the day
Do a sound-check beforehand with the interviewee. Be aware that what they sit on will affect how they speak. I interviewed someone once at another church event while he was slouched in a soft armchair, mumbling into his chest. Having both of you sit on bar stools with a small table in between produces a very different effect.
Introduce the interviewee before you invite them to come up, a little like a talk show host on TV might. You could, for instance, say something like:
‘Welcome. Today’s event is part of a series called “One Thing in Common” where we invite different sorts of people, with different stories, but with one thing in common – their faith in Jesus Christ. We interview them about their life and faith, followed by a short talk, which today is on “Investing for eternity”. Our guest today is someone who knows plenty about investing. He worked for Credit Suisse for over 20 years in senior management and strategic planning, and is now the CEO of Hoare & Co. Would you please welcome Jeremy Marshall.’
In your questions, you can either work through their story chronologically, or you can explore different themes (with Jeremy we went through his career, his cancer, his testimony, his current life and why God allows suffering). Remember that the person’s story of how they came to faith in Christ is just part of the whole.
At the end explain what would be the next step someone could take. Is there another event or evangelistic course or a book to take away? If you have a response card make sure people are clear what they are signing up for. At one mission week the organisers had two boxes to tick: ‘Tell me more’ and ‘Count me in’. Afterwards it turned out that they treated the latter as indicating people had turned to Christ, although they hadn’t explained this.
A testimony event doesn’t have to be someone with an amazing story or high-profile role. It can work with any Christian. I attended a very effective evangelistic event in a workplace at which two of the workers gave their testimonies, and then another closed with a 10 minute talk on ‘Is there life after death?’ Another worker I know put on a Christmas event for her team at which she gave her testimony and then had a Q&A. The point of the event is to clearly explain the gospel and the impact it has on individual lives.