Understanding, acceptance, warm: first words that come to mind from some of the learners who have studied English with the help of an ordinary bunch of people in an ordinary church in the suburbs of London.  

It all began with the church wanting to connect and build relationships in the name of Jesus with people in the surrounding community: a couple of older people, two or three trained teachers, a vicar, a young mum, a student. All with a heart to do something to share the good news of Jesus in word and deed.

Connecting with people in meaningful ways, however, demands creativity. Especially so in busy, urban streets where people are cautious of others and partitioned within blocks of flats. How is it possible to meet people, let alone get to know them well enough to earn the right to speak? It can be challenging enough to interact with English speakers but what about the countless International people on our doorstep who struggle with the language? How is your Turkish, for instance?

The church responded by offering English language classes after the Sunday church service as a genuine and natural way into the lives of local people. What a great opportunity to practise English but also to gently invite people to come alongside Christians in community. 

Why stop there? The church contacted the nearby school and discovered they were also keen for parents to improve their English. What a chance to get to know even more people through weekly classes. Classes are not only promoted by the school but it is clear that they are a church initiative. Those from outside the school are welcome too, moreover.

The church uses a low-maintenance, simple-to-run, conversational approach to English classes using material from 2:19 such as the ‘So to Speak’ books covering everyday themes such as ‘clothing’ and ‘housing’. Learners know that they are turning up for English classes without strings attached. Classes are well-prepared and carefully delivered. In other words, the linguistic needs of the learners are taken seriously. 

Seeing Christians in action, however, means that welcome, hospitality, acceptance, warmth, and witness to Jesus never need to be too far off. One learner recounts being able to share from the heart: “This class was more natural than the college. We talk about everything. We ask our teacher, they always help us. At college we focus on a subject and we ask another thing to our teacher, they always say it is not related to our lesson.”   

By listening and being ready to act in kindness, the church has been able to signpost Jesus through the natural, unforced conversations that arise out of the classes. The church has also been able to walk alongside learners in times of tragedy and uncertainty, such as the earthquakes in Turkey. Christians are able to share the hope that they have which is motivated by God’s love and forgiveness.

What about the needs of the communities that surround you and your church? Would offering people help with the English language be a legitimate way of meeting needs and getting to know people? If so, why not pray and share your ideas with the leaders at your church. Doing so could well be the start of another amazing story of ordinary people doing wonderful things in the name of Christ.


Further Resources and Reading

Thinking about setting up a conversational class? Why not read through this guide from those who have gone before? 

Sow to Reap: How to set up outreach through church-based conversational classes and iCafes’. A practical resource booklet from the 2:19 team modelling a step-by-step approach to getting your church on board, together with the nitty-gritty of planning and running English classes. Order softback (£15) or digital (£10) from the 2:19 website: https://www.twonineteen.org.uk/product-category/lesson-resources/page/2/

Need further support with setting up? Why not contact 2:19 to get more ideas on support available. North West (daniel@twonineteen.org.uk), Midlands (maura@twonineteen.org.uk), South (marina@twonineteen.org.uk)

Need to gain more confidence in teaching? Why not do some self-study online? Check out ‘Principles and Practices of TESOL’, a free introductory course through Future Learn. For a few hours a week, such courses are great for brushing off cobwebs for the more experienced while providing foundations for those new to teaching. Have a browse around, there’s sure to be a course that will spark your interest: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/key-principles-and-practices-of-tesol

Alternatively the Christian-run ‘ODILS’ charity in Plymouth offer the gold-standard Trinity Cert TESOL: https://odils.com/online-teacher-training-courses-for-english-tesol/ Although delivery is online, an optional plus point is that people in the area are welcome to come into ODILS for teaching practice, meetings, and further support. 


Daniel Whetham is the 2:19 Regional Developer for Greater Manchester, seconded from Interserve. Daniel supports churches in setting up and running English classes. He also researches trends in ESOL, government policy, and movements of International people in the UK in order to consider how best to pray, prepare, and respond with English language provision in the love of Christ.