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Principles for reaching non-native english speakers in your community

Our society has become increasingly globalised and multicultural in recent decades -- this includes a large proportion of people for whom English is not their first language. The challenge for the church is presenting the gospel in a way that is relatable and understandable to all sectors of our communities. This article therefore lays out some foundational principles for reaching non-native English speakers.

My principle for reaching non-native English speakers shouldn’t come as a surprise. It is very much like reaching any other people group and is based on Jesus’ great commission. Jesus wants us to make disciples from all nations and to teach them about Him. 

Understanding our mission to reach the nations is within our reach

The nations are on our doorstep! We literally do not need to travel further than a short drive to realise this. We no longer need visas, plane tickets and vaccinations to reach people from around the world. Our churches should aim to be as representative of the local population as possible.

The nations are on our doorstep! We literally do not need to travel further than a short drive to realise this.

But the reality is that churches this side of eternity will need encouragement to reach out to people who are different to them. Leaders should prayerfully encourage their congregations to reach out to people slightly different from them and then hopefully grow in boldness! I have often found grace a much more useful tool than law in encouraging Christians in this aspect. Let us not be like foolish Jonah.

Teach non-natives how to read the Bible and pray for themselves

Whether someone is in the UK for a shorter or longer period, it is important that they learn how to read the Bible for themselves. In our church we often say that people start reading the Bible at the beginning but never get out of Egypt (Exodus). Perhaps use a simple English version of the Bible. Perhaps find a Bible in their local language or that is bilingual.

Whether someone is in the UK for a shorter or longer period, it is important that they learn how to read the Bible for themselves.

I remember at one church in Durham they often had the Bible reading page numbers on the screen in both English and Chinese. Teach non-natives how to read the Bible within context, or what’s often called comprehension. One helpful Bible study method is the ‘The Swedish Method’, which asks what the main point is, what questions do they have and how does it apply. If there are more than a couple of non-natives wanting to study, it would be a good idea to set up a dedicated Bible study for them.

We have been thoroughly blessed here in Hong Kong by churches in the UK that have invested in individuals and taught them how to read the Bible and pray for themselves and I always try to pass on my thanks to these churches. 

Practical suggestions

Identify one potential group of non-native speakers within your local community. It is better to go deep with one group than broad with multiple groups.

The best way to identify what group you can reach out to depends on your community and what gospel partners within your church are equipped to reach out to them. Perhaps you could encourage these gospel partners to train at the local gospel partnership training course? Perhaps you could ask a few mission agencies about their returning missionaries who might be looking for work back in the UK? Please don’t completely delegate this ministry to one individual but encourage your church leadership to invest in them. 

Perhaps your church is within a short distance of a university or language school? In that case, it might be worth encouraging church families to ‘adopt’ an international student for their time in the UK? 

Why not ask internationals to serve the church? I have witnessed great success and encouragement in asking non-natives to be on church rotas, and one favourite was seeing some incredible church lunches.

Why not ask internationals to serve the church? I have witnessed great success and encouragement in asking non-natives to be on church rotas…

What is very important is trying to follow up with them once they return to their home country.  Work hard at trying to help them to find a suitable church in their home city and pray for them as they deal with the pressures of family, work and sometimes less-than-ideal church situations. Encourage church members to try and keep in contact with them once they return.

Jesus promises he will be with us as we obey his great commission and make disciples of the nations and teach them about Him. That’s a huge encouragement.

Jesus promises he will be with us as we obey his great commission and make disciples of the nations and teach them about Him. That’s a huge encouragement. I pray that your local church grows in their understanding of God’s global church as they reach outside of their comfort zone and speak to people that are different to them.

Ryan Muir

Ryan Muir is Director of Putonghua ministry, St Andrew’s Kowloon, Hong Kong. Originally from the UK, he and his wife, Lulu, lived in Beijing for five years before moving back to the UK to study at the Cornhill Training Course and Oak Hill College. Ryan has led mandarin speaking ministries in London and Newcastle upon Tyne and is now the pastor of a mandarin congregation in Hong Kong.

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