Within international student ministry, there are many different models. Which model is used depends on the school, the volunteer core available, and the students involved. No one model is the “correct” way to do it – they all have their pros and cons.
There are three broad umbrellas the models fall under: church-based, campus-based, and ethnic-centric.
Church-based ministries can be run by local churches or run in partnership with other ISM groups nearby. In this ministry, the church provides services to meet international students’ needs and expose them to the gospel. The majority of their activities will be held at the church. Volunteers come from the church community.
A church-based ministry can partner with another community group in a cooperative ministry. The partnership provides opportunities to meet students’ needs across a broader spectrum as well as (usually) offering multiple locations for ministry. These partnerships can be between multiple churches, churches and ISM organizations (such as ISI), or churches and campus ministries.
Some of InterVarsity’s ISM chapters partner with local churches in a cooperative ministry. They, and other campus ministries, reach internationals in a different way from churches. Events often take place on campus – in classrooms, dorms, or outside campus buildings. There is also often a greater focus on students as the ones making contact with internationals (as opposed to church volunteers).
Ethnic-centric ministries seek to minister to cultures in their own specific people groups. Some campus ministries do this (Navigators is a well-known one). Other ministries, like Ambassadors for Christ, are national groups who focus on one section of internationals (Chinese, in their case). These national networks can be especially helpful when students return home, as they often have connections within the home countries.
While each of these models approaches their ministry differently, they do tend to have similar facets within their ministry.
- Hospitality is important to ISM, mainly because we are the residents of an unfamiliar place. Since internationals come the United States, ISM groups provide a welcoming presence for them. Hospitality is also often a strong value for many internationals.
- English as a Second Language programs are extremely common among ISM. Unless the international student is from the United Kingdom or Australia, they likely will seek out help with speaking English – either at an earlier level or a more advanced level.
- ISM also places a high emphasis on friendship. As many international cultures value friendship at a deeper level than Americans might, focusing on friendship causes the ministry to stand out favorably for internationals.
- Nearly all ISM groups will focus on activities during holidays. Internationals seldom go home, so holidays provide another opportunity for ministry.
- ISM is also generally what is termed in InterVarsity as an International Witnessing Community. An IWC brings international students in and equips them to share the gospel with their international peers.