ICFs are often held on campus but could be held in churches or homes with large meeting areas. Some ICFs involve a meal to start with and most include discussions, Bible studies, and the practice of conversational English. Some include music and worship. These groups often develop traditions of their own like a song to welcome new members, ways to celebrate birthdays, or a special speaker who comes each year at a particular time (e.g., Santa Claus). Both believers and non-believers feel comfortable and accepted in these gatherings. They are safe places to enjoy one another and to have conversations about things not talked about on campus.
Home Groups are mini-versions of ICFs, though some can grow quite large. One university ICF could only get a room which would hold 60 students each week on campus. When they switched to Home Groups, they multiplied tremendously in the number of students to whom they could reach out to. Today they have twenty home groups with 20-30 students in each one… a total of more than 400 students they reach out to regularly on that campus.
Home groups typically have three American couples who do the cooking and serve as hosts. The group may meet at one couple’s home all the time or rotate between the three couple’s homes. Often the student leadership of the group will plan outings with the hosts (e.g., rodeo, farm, picnic, movie, professional sports event, historical site, etc.). The students who have a car and the couples provide the transportation. Often the three couples come from the same church, so people in the church may be involved in helping with particular tasks (e.g., driving students) or putting on events (e.g., picnic games, going fishing, shooting skeet, etc.).
These groups provide students with a sense of home and community that the campus does not. Sometimes the three couples have children who are involved in the events and that adds to the sense of home.
ICFs and Home Groups are a place where students see Christ working in and through individuals. That backdrop is powerful when mixed with Bible studies and testimonies of the difference Christ makes in a life. So, by their very nature, these groups have a consistent witness for Christ and are a key source of students choosing to follow Christ.
Principles cited in this blog: Students long for a sense of home and community; ICFs and Home Groups provide that. Often choosing to go small in outreach results in growing large.
Application for ISI ministry: ICFs and Home Groups are a mainstay of ministry for International Students, Inc. because it meets deep needs in students and has a consistent witness for Christ.
Next blog topic: The maturing of Friendship Partner relationships with students
Doug Shaw with Derrah Jackson