How to Welcome Internationals into Your Small Group – A Leader’s Guide

In addition to training internationals about small groups, it is also important to train small groups. Here is a simple guide for such training. We hope it helps provide some good ideas for working with small group leaders. (Note: There is a separate training for small group facilitators whose groups will welcome internationals. This portion is for internationals.)

Why have a training?

We discovered more internationals were joining small groups at University Presbyterian Church, but often times the small groups were unsure how to welcome them.

What is the purpose of the training?

The purpose of this training is to prepare and equip small groups to welcome internationals, and also to develop a vision for becoming the international members’ spiritual family when they return to their home countries. It is a privilege to host an international in your small group; most of the internationals coming to small group do not have the spiritual family and resources that we have here in the United States. Your small group has the privilege of becoming the spiritual family and support system for an international who will one day go home, most often to a situation hostile to faith.

What format should we use?

This is a 90-minute training for the small group before internationals join the group. The discussion/interactive format and “what if” scenarios are an attempt to make this interactive, relaxed, and fun.

Where should the training be located?

Wherever the small group normally meets.

Who should facilitate?

Someone who has gone through the training before, ideally someone who is available for ongoing support/questions.

Part 1: Prayer

Make sure you take time to pray together for the small group.

Part 2: Small group discussion

Why are you interested in having internationals in your small group?

  • This can be revealing and help direct the training. Pay attention. Are they open to learning? Do they just want to help? Is the group going to die if they don't get more people? Are there things they say that make us want to cater the training or highlight different parts? Ideally, the small group is interested in welcoming internationals because they want to become more missional.

Part 3: Cultural training activity & East/West cultural differences

How do we prepare culturally?

  • Develop your own cultural training activity, or contact the editor for more information.
  • Debriefing Questions:
    • How did you feel trying to understand a culture that is foreign to yours?
    • How did you feel about your group’s behavior? The other group’s?
    • How well did your group observe the norms of the other group? What does this tell you about the way you responded to their culture?
  • Teaching Points:
    • Remember how you felt trying to understand a culture that is foreign to yours? This is the experience our internationals may have coming to your small group!
    • There are things in our Christian culture that we take for granted (prayer, communion, etc.) that need to be explained to our international friends. We will do our best to prepare people before they come, but it is also the responsibility of the small group to explain things and make the experience welcoming.
    • There are going to be obvious cultural differences: the way we pray; taking off shoes; who pays for the bill; etc. There will also be deeper things that come up: how fast people grow in their faith or deep worldview differences that prevent them from coming to the faith (i.e. they are worried about what their parents will think.) The main thing is to create a safe place where people have real relationships and trust.

What are the differences between the East and the West?

  • Use infographic from Yang Liu. Access here.
  • Collectivism - Westerners assert a lot more independence and individualism; they mainly focus on themselves and their family. Easterners are more community-oriented. Most Easterners will travel in large groups. They will give answers and opinions on behalf of the group, not themselves. When asked if everything is okay, they will answer on behalf of the group.
  • Punctuality - Westerners are particularly and extremely focused on time, while Easterners are more relaxed in comparison.
  • Problem solving - Westerners tend to take the most direct approach to problem solving. Problem solving in Asia is a bit more complex, and it may involve an indirect approach. Don’t be discouraged when your international friend does not talk about their problems.
  • The leader - In the East, leaders have greater authority and influence, as well as respect. In the West, leaders may have a weaker influence in comparison. Even though you may consider everyone in your group to be equal, that may not be the way the international views you. They probably will not ever question the things you say.

Why are they coming?

  • Internationals have a spectrum of needs.
    • When they first arrive, they hope to make friends with people from the new country, learn about the new culture, and practice English.
    • When they have been here longer, they are looking for American friends and may have had trouble finding close friends/have been distanced by other communities. They are often curious about Christian culture.
    • When they are about to go home, they don’t want to miss out on opportunities and want to make the most of their time.
  • Internationals represent a spectrum of the journey of faith.
    • Those socially oriented are looking for friendship. They may not know anything about Christians/Christianity.
    • Those curious about Christianity are drawn to Christian community. They agree with some of the Christian worldview, but have serious obstacles to coming to faith.
    • New Christians have been baptized and are learning about the faith, but may have serious gaps in their understanding of Christian theology and way of life.
    • Growing disciples are excited to join God’s mission here and back home.

Case studies – look at the studies and discuss these three questions for each example.          

  • What practical things could your small group do to welcome and include the international?
  • What should be your small group’s role in this person’s spiritual journey?
  • What obstacles could you foresee?

Case study #1

  • An international who recently came to America.
  • Not a believer.
  • Here to learn English.
  • Robert is a visiting scholar from Beijing, China. He is a professor in mathematics and also a communist party member. He is married and has a young daughter back home. He arrived in America one week ago, came to an international outreach event, and has now signed up for your small group! Despite his broken English, he is outgoing, talkative, and very excited to meet Americans. He will only be in the United States for six months.

Case study #2

  • International who has been here a while.
  • Is learning about faith and is attending church.
  • Hannah is in her third year at the university and is from Korea. She recently had a painful breakup with her boyfriend, and has been looking for new friends. She has come to your small group a few times. She appreciates the Christian faith and really loves the community, but can’t see herself becoming a Christian. She has shared that she feels peace when reading the Bible.

Case study #3

  • International who is returning home.
  • New believer.
  • Looking to grow.
  • Lily is an architect who is nearing the end of her one-year stay in America. In her time here, she has become an active member of the church’s international community and has recently made a decision to follow Christ and to be baptized. She is a new believer and knows little about how to live a Christian life. She is unaware of the churches in her city and does not have any Christian friends or family in her hometown of Suzhou, China.

Cultural tips

  • Speak slowly and clearly.
  • Leave space for the international. Don’t dominate the conversation. Invite the international into the conversation. Ask his/her opinion.
  • Get to know the international outside of the small group in order to build real relationship. If they have been quiet in the group, you can ask if they like to be invited to share or if they prefer to just listen.
  • The international may not tell you how he or she is feeling, so you need to try to be aware (pay attention to body language, engagement in the conversation, etc.)
  • Avoid inside jokes and excessively Christian language.
  • Avoid talking about politics and asking about communism (Tibet, Tiananmen, Taiwan).

Part 4: “What if…”

  • What if we can’t understand each other?
    • Except some miscommunication. It is okay to ask people to repeat themselves or spell out the word they are trying to say. Maintain a safe space and be patient.
  • What if they are not believers?
    • We have told the internationals they don’t need to be believers, but they understand that these are Christian groups and know you will be praying, studying the Bible, etc.
  • What are YOUR “what ifs?”

Part 5: Going home

  • Stay Connected! Send emails, pray over Skype.
  • Remember that you are their spiritual family. Things will be difficult for them, and it will be helpful for them to know that you are there supporting them.
  • Talk to people ministering among internationals for help making connections with churches in their home countries.

 

Stew Bowerman serves as the Associate Director of Ministry with Internationals at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, Washington. He studied at Azusa Pacific University and Fuller Theological Seminary and taught English in Wuhan, China.