How to run evangelistic second language English classes

If you are a native English speaker, you may not realise it, but you hold a great resource. There are many people in the world that want to speak, write, and understand English -- and many of them live or study in the UK. For these people, having time with native English speakers is something they treasure.

As Christians we have the most important and wonderful message to share, the gospel. The Bible speaks into all areas of life and to people of every nation. So why not start to think through who you could speak English with evangelistically?

Think about who you can reach!

In most towns there are many internationals attending English language schools to study English. Are there any language schools near your church? Brexit and COVID have reduced numbers, but more and more are coming to the UK again now. Why not ask if anyone in your church is a host family? Useful intel can be gathered from host families that can help you plan when best to run your classes.

If there is a University or College or private school nearby, it is likely that some international students will be there. Why not try to make contact through a CU?

And then there are internationals who have moved here for asylum or on work visas. Many internationals work in care, medicine, shops, takeaway industries, or live in nearby social housing.

Why not seek to make friendships with those internationals you meet and offer your church English class as a friendly, patient place to practise.

During lockdown, when we were all forced online, we became aware of internationals online. I am a computer gamer. Thousands of people from all over the world play computer games and talk via voice chat over the Internet every day. I have gone from chatting online while driving a tank to talking about Jesus. For some you will be the only Christian to whom they will ever speak. Often others will listen in, as you have those conversations.

Why not seek to make friendships with those internationals you meet and offer your church English class as a friendly, patient place to practise.

I once went from an online gaming conversation to a Bible study on Skype with a man in St Petersburg, Russia. A Bulgarian man once told me that he had been reading the Bible and had no one to talk things through with until he met me. A Croatian man thanked me for my kind words during a game and said I had helped him beat depression.

Zoom and similar applications mean you can speak to people around the globe. Think through who you might reach online? During the lockdowns we contacted past students who had attended our in-person meetings, who in turn invited their friends. A random post inviting people on Facebook was seen by two Venezuelans who then joined us over a number of weeks. The possibilities are endless and can suit individuals or teams of every size.

Get to know the people in your church

Who loves Jesus? Who wants to make Him known? Who is friendly? Who likes talking? Who is quiet? God can involve everyone in sharing the gospel. Our team is a mixed bunch. I will take anyone if they love the Lord and are prepared to work as a team in getting the gospel out.

Build and Invest in your team

It is important to keep stating what you believe and what your aims are as you build a team to work with you in reaching internationals. Don’t assume, but state and restate what you believe and what your aims are. Have a regular prayer time; pray about every aspect of the work, the start, during and as you finish. Encourage accountability; we do not want lone-workers, it’s teamwork. The work never depends solely on an individual. Jesus is the Saviour and God is the Evangelist; it doesn’t all depend on us.

Share with the team what you are doing or are planning to do. Practise good safeguarding principles. Who is your group aimed at? Adults or under-18s? Do any of the students have learning difficulties? Be mindful that when you are running an evangelistic outreach for internationals, anyone could join. You may need to protect your visitors from lonely English people or people trying to find a partner. Don’t be scared to challenge people in order to protect your students who are in many senses vulnerable. Be mindful of men and women in groups; discussions on faith with Muslim men are best coming from men and discussions with Muslim women from women, for instance.

There are a number of useful resources to help with training, such as the ‘Engaging with’ series by the Good Book Company, or the book Nothing in my Hand I Bring (on Roman Catholicism). The Reachout Trust has resources on cults and other faiths, and Friends International can advise on reaching internationals. Why not choose a training book and read a chapter a week and discuss it with your team?

The work never depends solely on an individual. Jesus is the Saviour and God is the Evangelist; it doesn’t all depend on us.

Feedback is also invaluable; what worked and what didn’t? Be mindful of team dynamics; who talks too much, who is quiet, who is unaware? When there are small numbers of students you don’t need the whole team pouncing on them. When our louder team members forgot this, it made quieter team members feel they were not needed and want to stop coming.

Meeting in person – International Café

Think through when is the best time to meet and where to meet. We met on Mondays from 4:30–6:30pm to attract English language students after their school finished. This attracted some but many couldn’t stay long, as their host families had prepared supper for them after school. The language school started to provide their own after school activities and other churches started running activities at the same time. This all led to fluctuating numbers. We also ran a Bible study on Thursday lunchtimes 12:30–1:30pm to coincide with the school’s lunchtime. Many came for the free lunch, but it was also good to get students into the Word.

We had a greeter on the street with a billboard pointing to the church which said ‘Free International Café’ who gave out fliers. The time and day needed to be clear, of course. The greeter needed to be a friendly person and it helped if they could remember people’s names.

We also put a greeter on the door and at other points near the church where someone might get lost. When we couldn’t manage this, we observed students going so far towards the meeting but then turning around and leaving.

Serving free tea and coffee and getting people in your church to make cakes was also a draw. Nowadays you need to provide allergen information and be mindful of COVID but offering things for free is a distinctive draw, as other organisations often want to make money out of the students. It’s helpful to remember our profit is them hearing the gospel.

We sat students on round tables with two team members on each table, but found students migrating to other tables and to leaders they liked. At times we found them all wanting to sit on the same table which made conversation difficult. At that point we would invite them to split up and join other tables, so as to give them a better opportunity to practise English. We then separated the tables so people could hear and have good conversations. Board games were available on one table and that stimulated English conversation. Games like Jenga were a hit and we often used  them as an icebreaker. Another table had easy-to-read English books, an atlas, and local history books available, all there to be used to help conversations. We also used a Friends International resource card pack with questions to start conversations.

We’d have a team member answer a ‘Question of the Week’ (other variations I’ve seen include presenting a flag of the week). And we’d spend some time introducing a theme from the Bible or explaining a Bible passage and then invite people to our Thursday Bible study or to the Sunday service. We’d also have free Christian literature in different languages available for people to take.

Another popular activity was to get the students to present something about their country. Using PowerPoint, a simple food dish or music, we found students would often proudly share something of their culture with us.

Meeting in person – lunchtime Bible study

As I’ve said, providing a free lunch is a big draw, but some people will also come because they want to study the Bible. We’d provide a passage in English on an A4 sheet and the same passage in the main languages of the students we knew would be attending. Students would sit on round tables: two leaders per table and a maximum of six-to-eight students. One English speaker would welcome and introduce the session. A clear English speaker would then read the passage in English. We’d designate a leader on each table to lead the session with another as wing-person to help.

…providing a free lunch is a big draw, but some people will also come because they want to study the Bible.

We started by asking students if there were any words or phrases that they didn’t understand. And then we’d go through a series of easy English questions on the passage. At times we’d make our own studies, or we would use the International Easy English version for Christianity Explored, Just for Starters, or The Word One to One. We learnt to be prepared for people coming late or going early and trusted God to use the time we had together. Taking people’s names, email addresses and nationalities was helpful for prayer and follow-up.

Meeting in person – Day trips and being a friend

Taking students as a group to local attractions, inviting them to your home to meet your family or to go for a meal are all rewarding in building up friendship and give more opportunities to talk about Jesus.

Meeting in person – Church

If you are going to invite internationals to your Sunday services, it’s helpful to buy a range of Bibles in international languages or use Bible Gateway to print out the passage being preached on. It’s good to brief welcomers, service leaders, preachers, prayers and readers that internationals will be present. Using PowerPoint helps those with basic English to follow the preaching. And trusting God to work through His people and His Word is also important. We had the privilege of seeing the Buddhist Korean parents of one of our members, who could not speak English, declaring faith in Jesus having lived among us for a few weeks. They saw Jesus alive in His people as a stark contrast to Buddhism.

If you are going to invite internationals to your Sunday services, it’s helpful to buy a range of Bibles in international languages…

Meeting online – English language class

As with in-person work, it’s helpful to have a team. My genetics mean that I’m not good at English, yet God uses me. He also gave me a team – some are particularly good at English – and we work well together. We found planning themes for the term helpful (I would be happy to share the thirty or so we have prepared with you if you get in touch). We tried to think of themes where, as part of the session, we might introduce people to Jesus. We used Zoom and PowerPoint (so to run an effective class online you need at least one team member able to use these applications). We found having several sections to the class to be more enjoyable for participants. Having lots of visuals and games worked best. The Floor is Lava is a helpful book of ideas, but games like wordsearches work well, and having slides of text and idioms to think about and use in context were all helpful ways to practise English. Google is helpful for idioms, pictures and fun facts. And the Zoom breakout function is invaluable to help talk over things in smaller groups which the students always seemed to enjoy.

Meeting online – Bible study

We also had a meeting to study the Bible. Internationals joined from several countries, and we found many who came said they rarely got to talk about the Bible with others in their contexts. We found Christianity Explored, Life Explored and Discipleship Explored with subtitles all helpful and we found that eBook versions of participant guides could be easily sent to internationals. I adapted Just for Starters and found it a great resource with its short Bible passages teaching powerful gospel truths.

…we found many who came said they rarely got to talk about the Bible with others…

But then I discovered The Word One to One available as a PDF on their website. We read it, as it is, giving internationals the opportunity to read one page at a time. Members of my team listened out for errors and corrected the students after each page. We kept reminding each other to be kind and patient and give firmer correction with the better speakers. Depending on the team, I asked a specific team member to feed back, while others stayed silent, and I found this a great way to encourage the quieter members of the team. Amazingly, over time, as the participants began to listen to the text, God began to work and we witnessed people come to and grow in faith. In time I also found it helpful to pick one Bible truth from each Episode, devise a hook question based on that verse or main subject and discuss it as people joined Zoom. We then read the Episode as it was and at the end divided into breakout groups with two team members per group. I would work out a couple of questions for discussion based on the chapter we’d just read and give the team freedom to stick to my script or not. We found this a useful way to stimulate gospel conversations.

Friends, the opportunities to teach internationals the gospel through English are abundant. You can do this as individuals or as a team. You can do it at play or through a thought-out area of ministry. Why not watch and pray, and take the opportunities that God gives?

Andy Nash

Andy Nash is the Evangelist at Christ Church Westbourne, Bournemouth, and Christianity Explored Ministries Ambassador. He is married to Abi, and he enjoys gaming, walking their rescue greyhound Matilda, trance music and eating smoked foods.