Nine Tips on Starting an ESL Ministry


They saw the need, they prayed for direction, they prepared and now they are seeing the results! Beacon Baptist Church in Burlington, NC started an ESL (English Second Language) ministry 3 years ago. We were recently able to visit their ESL ministry and asked them to share some tips on starting an ESL ministry. If you are seeking to start an ESL ministry, we trust that these ideas might be of a help and encouragement.

1) CURRICULUM: Do not shortcut the curriculum. There are several good publishers out there. We use Step Forward. You do not want to give the impression that you are doing the old “bait and switch” tactic with them. That is dishonest and it will drive them off. Give them excellent training in English that is permeated with Biblical principles.

2) ADVERTISEMENT: Advertise with a poster in specialty restaurants and stores (Who, What, Where, When, How). Be prepared to have them call to ask in their native tongue, or in very broken English, for information about your program. Get a name and a number so that you can follow up. We have tried flyers, banners, ads in newspapers, etc. The best advertising comes from students themselves. Word of mouth is better than anything we can print.

3) SCHEDULE: We run our program during our Sunday night service. Many folks work six days a week and get home late each evening. Sunday is family time for them. By offering our ESL Program in the evening they still have the afternoon for family.

4) RELATIONSHIPS: Once you have people coming fairly regularly, do not fail to build relationships with them. Focus your efforts on learning about your students’ lives, families, and work. Spend time before and after each class with your students to learn about them.We have a light snack each week. It has proved to be a special time of getting to know the folks better. Let them get to know you as well. The quicker you can break down your “walls” the quicker the program will flourish. Have events outside of class to learn more about them (dinners/social events) and invite their families to attend these events as well.

5) CHILD CARE: Provide child care because that will influence who comes. This is a great time to build relationships with the entire family. We actually have one family who is now coming to our Wednesday night children’s clubs.

6) INTEGRATION: Try to get your church people to drop by the ESL rooms at the close of the service to greet the ESL students. Recently we started to list a particular adult Sunday school class in the bulletin each week to do so.

7) STAFFING: Try to get enough teachers and support staff so that you can have substitutes when conflicts arise or someone is sick. Be careful not to have too many out of the church service. Your teachers need to have training and need to be comfortable with the material.

8) GOSPEL: Don’t be afraid to share the gospel. Students expect it when coming to a church. Obviously, the gospel is the greatest thing we have to share. Let the students see the gospel through you as well. We have a dedicated time at the beginning of class for a devotion and then we begin English after that.

9) PATIENCE: Be patient! You most likely will find your enrollment is fluid from week-to-week. Many people will come and go, eventually you will have students who will stick with your program. It WILL take years for that to happen. Patience is everything. You must be in it for the long haul. Students will know if you are not in it for the long term.

Special thanks to Corey Oakley and Bob La Tour from Beacon Baptist Church in Burlington, NC for their insights in starting an ESL ministry. Compiled by Wanda Taylor.