Disciple Making Secrets

How to Make Disciples in a New Culture, Even if you Don't Know the Language!

Whether you’ve been sent overseas as a missionary, or you’re just trying to engage a migrant community in your area, reaching out cross-culturally is hard. In this kind of ministry, strange looks from those around you are common as you make basic cultural mistakes or assume things based on your home culture. And that’s to say nothing of language! But have no fear, because Waha was built for cross-cultural environments, and in this article, we aim to help you understand the in’s and out’s of making disciples in a cross-cultural setting... Even if you don’t speak the language!

Overview of cross-cultural engagement

You might be heading out with a lot of training, and more than your fair share of excitement about what God has called you to. But you won’t get far without a plan. Here are four action points to follow in order to get yourself started. More importantly, each of these points flow into the next and build on one another, moving you toward a lifestyle of cross-cultural disciple making.

  • Start learning. As a cultural outsider, you’re starting off at a disadvantage. While you may never reach the point where you are just as knowledgable about the culture as someone who grew up there, it’s still valuable to have as much awareness of the water you’re swimming in as possible.
  • Decontextualize yourself! As you’re learning about your host culture, it’s likely to rub up against some of the values instilled in you by your home culture. That’s a normal part of the process and it doesn’t mean you have to give up your old way of looking at things. But you may need to check those biases at the door to allow you to interact with your new host culture.
  • Find bridges. Another thing that will happen as you learn and decontextualize yourself is that you will find bridges. These may be ideas or values that are shared between your home and host cultures, but more likely than not those bridges will be people.
  • Start indigenous groups. Finally, once you have committed to learning about the culture, checked your biases, and found some people to serve as bridges, you’re likely to get access to some groups of people interested in exploring faith. As this happens, it’s important to remember the value of these groups developing their own indigenous expression of faith in Jesus, based on scripture.

Each of these points is important to remember, as they reflect the way many of Christ’s earliest followers shared their faith across cultural lines. A good example of this is Paul in Athens, when he identifies a culturally compelling way to articulate faith in Jesus to the pagans there.

So let’s practice Paul’s strategy and break these points down into specific steps...

The Game Plan

First of all, you need to learn about your new culture. The best way to do this is by asking good questions. Here are a few to get you started:

  • “What do people value in this culture?”
  • “Where do people gather to interact socially?”
  • “Under what circumstances (time, location, mood, level of trust) do these people open up about spiritual topics?”
  • “What is God already doing in this culture?”
  • “What is the story these people tell about themselves, and how can you show them that God’s story is their story?”

This list isn’t exhaustive, of course. But, it will get you started. What’s more, being a good question asker will help you engage more deeply later.

Next, you’re going to add in questions about yourself to your exploration. What do you value? How is it different from the culture you have come to? Perhaps more importantly, ask yourself what beliefs you hold that you’ve always assumed are “normal Christian” beliefs that might actually be more influenced by your home culture? What does the Bible say about some of these things? You’d be surprised at how many of the things we believe are influenced by our culture, but we’ve just never been challenged on them because we’ve been around others with the same cultural upbringing.

After you’ve begun this learning and decontextualizing process, it’s time to start looking for bridges. These links of commonalities can provide insight into how to win the hearts of people in your host culture. However, an even better bridge is a person who can function as a cultural (and sometimes linguistic) translator. These are often people who speak your language, and are welcoming to outsiders. They may feel like the only ones who don’t think you’re weird. If you’ve been doing a good job of asking questions, you might already have met this person because you’ve been asking questions of them and they’ve answered enthusiastically.

Then, you will want to build deeper relationship with that person. Oftentimes they are a Person of Peace, which is a concept we explain more deeply in our Disciple Making Course. Because of this, they may naturally introduce you to their family or friends and open a door to share about your faith. We encourage you to take it slow at first and invite them to read the Bible for themselves and discover what they think.

Finally, a group will begin to gather around discovery of God’s truth and love. It may be tempting to preach to them, but remember your commitment to decontextualizing yourself. Oftentimes, when we preach a sermon or give a teaching, we are sharing scripture alongside our own ideas. Those ideas, as we have discussed, may be a simple interpretation of scripture, but they probably contain little cultural biases that you didn’t realize! Overcome this challenge by simply showing them scripture and asking them what they think about it. Be sure to encourage the group to self-correct by keeping the focus on the passage and not their own thoughts, and encourage them to set actionable goals so they can put their new faith into action, little by little.

Wait a minute!

This is a great action plan, but let’s not forget the title of this article. How can you do all of the above without even speaking the language?

We think the answer is Waha.

Waha is a group-focused mobile app that allows anyone anywhere to lead a Bible study like the one described above. It’s been translated into many languages and more are always coming out! If you’re engaging a new culture and don’t speak the language, chances are you can start a group with Waha. One foreigner in a middle eastern country was even able to start three groups recently, without speaking a lick of Arabic! If you are engaging a new culture or plan to, download Waha today and get started for free!