Evangelism Explosion in Japan

One night, in our quiet neighborhood in Shiga prefecture, a Peruvian woman knocked on our door. “I’m looking for spiritual peace,” she said. “Can you help?” Over the next hour, I watched in amazement as my wife used the Evangelism Explosion (EE) method to share the gospel in Spanish. The woman found her peace in Jesus. I was astounded (and a little jealous).

How would you respond if you heard of three Japanese conversions in the space of a month, and one of the converts the evangelist barely knew? Skeptical? Incredulous? I don’t blame you—about a year ago, so was I.

Though I had heard EE didn’t work in Japan, seven months later I enrolled in the main training program in Kyoto. I listened skeptically until about the eighth week. Then, a seeker came to our church wanting to know how to forgive her parents. EE had taught me to respond to spiritual need with personal testimony, which I did, and this led to a presentation of the gospel. I stumbled through, with my wife’s help, and within an hour the woman came to trust in Christ. This happened with two other friends in the next month. I was stunned and then sold.

We’ve now started EE training in Sendai, and the results have been the same: conversions, Bible studies, and lay believers equipped and excited to share their faith. The pastor who hosted EE training here stated, “This is the most fruit we have seen in 30 years of ministry.”

Evangelism Explosion in Japan

EE is a personal evangelism program conceived by the late Pastor D. James Kennedy of Florida in 1962. Through it, his church exploded from 17 to 10,000, making it the largest in America at the time. The approach has been used to lead millions to Christ all over the world.

Until recently, however, EE had failed in Japan. In the 1980s, a group of Japanese pastors took the EE training in Florida and returned passionate to implement it here. However, it floundered due to inadequate translation of the materials and because the pastors used it primarily to grow their churches. That all changed in 2007 under the guidance of Pastor Tomoyoshi Yamanaka, who now leads EE Japan.

When he was 16, Yamanaka tried to kill his abusive father with a knife. In the aftermath of this incident, a missionary led him to faith in Jesus. Persuaded by her to seek a better life in the US, Yamanaka stayed for 12 years in Pennsylvania, where he received a clearer understanding and assurance of his salvation through EE. On returning, he assessed the situation of EE in Japan and believed it could be improved. Yamanaka translated the materials into simpler, vernacular Japanese and shifted the vision from growing his church (though it did grow) to equipping lay believers to reach Japan for Christ.

The results have been astounding. In 2008, the first EE training class in Yokohama attracted 20 students, and over the course of the 13-week training, 17 people were led to Christ. Over the ensuing 10 years, Yamanaka estimates that 800 Japanese have been led to faith through EE.

Takeshi Hattori is one inspiring example. A typical Japanese employee, Hattori worked long hours, came home late, and pretty much lived at his job. However, his boss was a Christian, and one day he invited Pastor Yamanaka to evangelize his employees. The boss told Hattori to go into a conference room, where Yamanaka sat waiting for him. “Sit down and listen,” he was told. Yamanaka then shared the Evangelism Explosion presentation with him, and by the end, Hattori simply believed. Today, all his family members have also come to Christ through EE. Hattori has completed seminary, is engaged to a Christian woman, and is assistant pastor at Yamanaka’s church. His presence at EE training seminars tangibly reminds participants of God’s power to save.

Then there was a Christian high-school math teacher, who, unable to answer a student’s question, fell into deep depression and quit his job. While receiving counseling from Yamanaka, he heard of the EE training program, and for some reason insisted on enrolling. Halfway through, he called Yamanaka at midnight, excited. “My wife and I have just led a very close friend to Jesus!” he said. This taste of evangelistic fruit began to fill him with confidence and hope that his life was worthwhile and could be used by God. He stopped taking medication and returned to work. He eventually went to Bible school and today is a church planter in the Philippines.

Evangelism Explosion and you

These stories are inspiring, but you might be thinking, “EE sounds too good to be true. It won’t work for me.” I understand such hesitation, but there are several reasons why EE could bless your ministry.

For one, it offers a clear presentation of the gospel. EE begins with “Heaven is a free gift” and ends with “But how can you receive this gift?” This clear motif is woven into a well-organized presentation and combined with easy-to-understand, emotionally engaging illustrations. Could it be that, despite your best efforts, your friends haven’t yet believed the gospel because they haven’t fully understood it? EE will overcome this obstacle.

EE can also help you “harvest” your contacts. One element of the EE course is On the Job Training, where the student first observes and then practices sharing the gospel with a non-believing friend using the EE method. Because the presentation ends with an invitation to trust in Christ, many conversions occur during these appointments. Thus, EE provides a natural and friendly way to invite friends to faith.

Another way that EE can help you is its conversational, relational approach. Rather than beginning with doctrine and propositions, it starts with personal testimony, which lowers resistance. It then asks a diagnostic question that reveals a person’s foundation for eternal life and then asks them for permission to share the gospel. In this way, EE proceeds naturally and smoothly toward a well-rounded, biblical gospel presentation that the listener has requested to hear.

Finally, thanks to Pastor Yamanaka’s translation, EE will teach you the heart language of the Japanese. A good example is the translation of the invitation to believe in Christ. It is phrased gently, and the question, “Would you like to receive the gift?” explains saving faith in a concrete way that the Japanese can grasp. “My people don’t understand phrases such as ‘receive Jesus into your heart’ or ‘become a Christian,’” explains Yamanaka. “These are too abstract or too religious. But they understand the concept of a gift. It’s concrete, objective. And they respond.”

Some might object that EE does not connect to the postmodern mind. However, many people we talk to here still think in traditional categories of heaven and hell, God(s) and the devil, and ethical right and wrong. Others may object that Japanese don’t just accept Jesus on the spot. While “cold contacts” generally don’t, we’ve found that when three factors converge—an existing relationship, a sense of personal need, and a clear gospel presentation—many will respond to a gentle invitation to believe.

As a previous skeptic who became convinced of the effectiveness of EE for reaching Japanese, I’d encourage you to find out more about EE and give it a try. If more of us were to learn the EE approach and train lay people to do the same, incredulity would turn to joy as new hearts are born.

For more information, see EE in Japan’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/EvangelismExplosionJapan/

Matt Cummings  A missionary kid born and mostly raised in Japan, Matt is a church-planting missionary in Sendai with WEC International. He and his wife, Annette, have five children. When not preparing sermons, Matt enjoys running, eating potato chips, and Skyping friends.

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