(EDITOR’S NOTE: In the Sept. 1 issue Brian Upshaw, team leader for the Church Ministry team with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, shared tips on how to start a discipleship group in your neighborhood. In this article, we look at specific steps for connecting and starting a small group among ethnic people groups.)
Sometimes it might start with something as easy as inviting your neighbors over to watch boxing, said Ken Tan, team leader of the multicultural team for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC).
“What’s that boxer’s name?” asked Tan, referring to how he has seen the professional boxer Manny Pacquiao, and other more international sporting events like soccer, draw a crowd among those who grew up outside the United States. “Yea, they’ll come and watch [Pacquiao].”
Tan shared some specific suggestions for building relationships and starting a small group – to disciple new believers or to reach out to those who have little to no knowledge about Jesus – among various ethnic groups in a neighborhood.
The opportunities are everywhere – especially in North Carolina. Some studies show the state being among the top five of the fastest growing foreign-born population.
Though some Christians might not know where to start in reaching out to their neighbors, Tan said, it’s easier than you may think.
Though it sounds simple, starting any effort must begin with specific and focused prayer. “[Pray] ‘God show me … what your heart is for the people around us,’” Tan said. “That prayer preparation is really what makes you conscious and aware of who is present there – whether you start to see Hispanics, Filipinos or Hindus, or Asian or whatever people groups are out there.”
“It always starts with the prayer [and the] sensitivity God puts on your heart.”
Find a need
For those who are new to the United States, they are going to have a variety of needs, Tan said. For instance, many international students move to the U.S. with little more than a suitcase. These students usually are in need of basic things such as furniture, or they may need a ride to buy groceries. They may also have an interest in learning English.
Whatever that need may be, find out what it is and help them meet it.
Ken Tan is the team leader of the multicultural team for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
“This is the time they are very receptive to looking for relationships,” Tan said. “If it’s a matter of helping them navigate, [or] how to survive here, those are things they are looking for.”
These situations give Christians opportunities for conversation and to learn more about their new neighbor and share common interests. As you continue to help meet a specific need, Tan said, a natural friendship and trust begins to form.
Food, fellowship, family
After trust has been established, an easy way to build on the new friendship is to give an invitation for a meal or some type of social gathering, like to watch a sporting event – as mentioned earlier in the story. Ask them to invite a friend, Tan said.
Food and fellowship is always a requirement, he added.
“We eat, we share, we try to do life together – it’s purely relational,” he said. “You just want to build a connection with this person.”
“You get to know who they are, their names,” Tan said. “You get to know their story, where they are and they’ll open up. … I ask myself what are some things this person could be going through.”
That’s where the opportunity to talk about faith, or introduce the idea of starting a Bible study opens up. Tan, however, cautions Christians to resist inviting them to church – at least at first.
“Inviting people to church first can cause them to put up barriers,” he said. “Many of them will not come to your church, but they will come to a Bible study.
“The Bible study has been the most effective tool for us, as far as I’m concerned, in reaching many people groups.”
Topics to avoid, Tan said, include politics and criticizing other religions.
“The moment they are offended, that’s it. [It’s] closed the door,” said Tan, who recommended steering the conversation toward Jesus if someone brings up religion.
A friendship should first be established before starting a small group, Tan said. Again, start with prayer. If they have a specific need or concern, offer to pray for them.
“They want to be prayed for … whether they believe in your religion or not,” Tan said. “You’ll be surprised how much people want to talk about spiritual things.”
As the relationship deepens, the new friendship will begin to feel more like family.
“The concept of family is important” Tan said. “Because most immigrants don’t have any family here.”
Keep it simple – start with the Bible
When the time comes to select curriculum, Tan suggests starting with the basics or what he called “foundation materials” that focus on Bible stories and scripture.
For a discipleship group, Tan recommended using the Survival Kit.
“You need to start with something that is very basic,” he said. “For the Bible study … usually, I start with the life of Christ.”
“They see that Christ is real, and they long for that deeper relationship with the Lord. … The Bible study becomes a forum for that.”
If you’re teaching English, Tan recommends using the Bible from the start.
Whether the focus is on discipleship or outreach, Tan said it is going to take time.
“If it was just for one month but you still had that chance to sow that seed, whether short time or long time, … [it’s] all in God’s plan.”
For more information about how you can minister among ethnic groups in your community, contact Tan at (800) 395-5102 ext. 5641. Or, to learn about opportunities to adopt an international student contact campus ministries at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5562.