Feb 02, 2015
Tips for Starting an International Student Ministry
Andy W., an international student minister and missionary, gives tips for starting an international student ministry. His identity is concealed for security reasons.
I believe that Christians in America have not been obedient enough to obey Jesus’ command to take the Gospel to all nations. So one way God is compensating for our lack of obedience is by bringing the nations to us! God so desperately wants the nations to know him that even if we won’t go to them, he will come up with other creative ways to get the job done. God has brought the nations to our doorstep! Thousands and thousands of international students flood college campuses each year. I’ve had the joy of making disciples among international students for the last 10 years, and I’d like to share some really practical tips for starting an international student ministry on a campus near you.
Recruit a team.
Ideally, you could start an international student ministry as a wing of an established American student ministry. Doing this gives you a great pool of potential teammates to recruit. American students who just returned from a summer mission trip would be great candidates for your team. Many summer missionaries are looking to continue ministering cross-culturally when they get back. You can provide them an awesome opportunity to continue doing what they care about. Your goal should be to open American students’ eyes to the opportunity of making disciples cross-culturally right there on their own campus.
Recruit church partners.
Share with a church or churches nearby about your vision to reach the nations on campus. You can ask for their support in a variety of ways. My local church consistently supports our ministry by either bringing food to our free dinners and giving financially so I have a budget to work with. The church also allows us to hold our large group events in their building close to the university campus. Don’t be afraid to ask! What’s the worst that could happen? Many churches would be pumped to be a part of such an exciting ministry.
Create a Strategy that Works for 2 types of International Students.
There are 2 very general types of international students.
- Students interested in friends and fun, but not interested in learning about God right now.
- Students interested in friends, fun, AND learning about God.
Here’s our strategy…
Every Thursday night we have an event called International Friendship Night (IFN). It consists of the weekly dinner we provide as well as an after-dinner activity. For the after-dinner activity, we rotate each week between a fun activity and a Bible study. So every 2 weeks it is just a fun party and game night atmosphere. The only spiritual thing we do on this night is invite them to come the next week to learn the Bible if they would like. Our goal on the fun night is to introduce internationals to Christian love. Even though they are not hearing the Gospel that particular night, they are getting to meet Christians who give them a free meal, have fun with them, and want to be their friend. Then, the next week, we have a Bible study where we share the Gospel in simple and relevant ways for international students to understand. The goal of the Bible study night is to introduce internationals to the love of Christ.
This rotating process is unique because it allows even the non-interested students who come biweekly to still feel welcomed and loved. It creates a longer window for them to keep coming around and potentially warm up to the idea of learning about Jesus. Another way this strategy works is that sometimes non-interested students will invite interested friends! Often the non-interested students help us find the ones that are. The coolest effect of this rotating model though is that we get a clearer picture on the Bible study nights of which students are truly seeking. Making the Bible study “optional” funnels the group down to those who are really open and interested. These are the students that God has been preparing for us to invest in!
In addition to having a Bible study once every 2 weeks, you should also mobilize students to share the Gospel and study the Bible personally with students 1-on-1 or in small groups. Studying the Bible once every 2 weeks is not really enough, especially because many students get busy and miss weeks. After reaching some students, you then have to decide what to do with them next. I would say you should….
Consider Starting House Churches
When students accept Christ, then what are you going to do with them? Of course, the first thing you want is for them to be joined to a local church. There are a couple reasons why I hesitate inviting my international students to go to most churches near our campuses though. First, many internationals will struggle to understand a church service because of their English level. Second, many internationals will struggle to understand a church service because of their lack of Christian background. Many pastors say things like “we all know John 3:16” and make lots of other assumptions that their listeners already understand certain things. But many internationals have no church background at all! They have never heard John 3:16! They need an expression of church that makes sense to them. We don’t want them to feel like they are in Kindergarten and everyone else in the church is in 12th grade.
A third reason to consider starting house churches is because the style of most American churches is not reproducible back in the internationals’ home countries. We don’t want international students to think that a church must have hundreds or thousands of people, coffee shops, indoor basketball gyms, huge rocks bands, and flashing lights to be a real church. We want them to see that a church could also be 10 believers meeting in a home and living out Jesus’ commands together.
Recently my wife and I started a house church in our home. Actually, though we call it “house church”, technically it is a mission of my church, Del Cerro Baptist. We even count our house church’s baptisms as a part of Del Cerro Baptist (which is fitting due to all the support the church gives our ministry). God has really worked this past year and we have already got to baptize 7 international students!
We’ve had a great international mix of interested students, new believers, and already believers needing fellowship and discipleship get involved with the house church. We meet on Sunday nights at 7pm so that my wife and I can continue to serve in Del Cerro Baptist’s morning services. Our weekly plan is eating dinner together, singing a couple worship songs, learning the Bible together with a discussion-style and then praying together.
I hope these ideas have inspired you to love on the international students on your campus! May God bless you as you seek to reach the nations!
Until the nets are full,