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Is It The Gospel Or A Canned Presentation

Through the years I have heard pastors and others comment that witnessing programs are just “canned presentations”.  Actually, they are canned presentations.  And again, actually, they are not canned presentations.  How can that be?

I was an Evangelism Explosion trainer for over ten years.  Evangelism Explosion (EE) is a program to help Christians learn how to share the gospel using a memorized outline and on the job training.

We met once a week for a semester where we learned a section of the outline each week and then went out in the field and shared what we learned.  Each team had a leader and two trainees.  Our church didn’t want us “bothering” anyone at home so instead of home visits we went to parks each week to talk to people.  Living in the desert the parks were always packed at night after the temperature went down so we had lots of people to share the gospel with.

If you stopped by our class for a visit you would see people practicing their outline and reciting illustrations they had just learned.  You’d hear advice and what to do in difficult situations and short topical studies on the gospel. 

If you stopped by at the end of class you’d see the report time where all teams reported on what happened while they were in the field that night.  Maybe there was a salvation, or seeds planted, or a difficult situation and how they resolved it.  It was a great learning session and encouragement for everyone to keep on keeping on sharing the gospel.

The class with it’s memorization seems to be what causes most naysayers to say EE is just a canned presentation.  Well, in the class it is canned.  How could it not be?  You are learning something you haven’t totally grasped yet so, yes, you will sound canned, stiff, unsure, etc.  Any evangelism class is going to sound canned during classroom time.  If it were a history class you would see people memorizing dates, times, people, etc.  You would think, that is really boring and canned.  But get that history buff out of class talking to some other history buff and they will be laughing and sharing what they’ve learned in a natural setting.  They are discussing what they love and no one would say it’s canned.

The same way with someone taking an evangelism class. You also might sound like you are presenting a learned presentation while in training when you’re out in the field.  But after you have learned the program and feel confident the student eventually sounds normal and natural when sharing the presentation and the person being witnessed to would never know you are following an outline.  So in that perspective, a learned witnessing presentation is not canned.  And the more you share the more natural and uncanned you are going to sound because you are making it your own.

Taking a witnessing class did two things for me.  It gave me what to say and the confidence to say it.  Without the on the job training I would never have walked up to someone to share the gospel or to even speak up in a conversation.  It was almost like taking assertiveness training.  I may be shy in normal group conversations but if I see a chance to share the gospel I probably will because of the confidence I received in my “canned” evangelism class.  And it would be a conversation.  No one, as far as I would know, would walk away saying I had just recited to them.  And that’s the whole point of the class.  To get the student in a position to share the gospel in a natural way.  And, of course, to actually share the gospel, not shy away.

I am not here to promote Evangelism Explosion as the way to learn how to witness.  It is just one of the many programs out there.  In fact, there are a few things I would change in the EE program if I could.  Such as when talking about sin the EE program is pretty vague.  Yes, it uses verses like All have sinned, etc. but that seems to just get a “well, see I’m no worse than anyone else” response.  I would like to see the use of the law when explaining sin.  It shows the person that his sin is against God and that is serious.  He’s lusted and hated his brother in his heart, lied, stolen, etc.  It makes it personal. 

I would also like to see more of the listener praying for salvation in his own words, if possible, instead of repeating a prayer.  I think they would really be talking to the Lord that way and hopefully be serious.  I’m always worried about false conversions.  A person who just repeated a prayer but didn’t care is going to go away thinking he did what he was supposed to and the next time he gets witnessed to he won’t listen.  He thinks he’s already done that.

But back to the point of this post.  Please don’t throw away all witnessing classes as something that is canned.  Some of us shy, introverted people out there need the guidance and experience you get in a class.  Without them we might never be bold enough to share God’s Word with someone who needs it.