IC = International Churches

International churches (ICs) are those churches around the world that primarily serve people of various nationalities (expatriates ) and church backgrounds living outside their passport (home) countries. They are also increasingly including more nationals.

Main Characteristics:

  • They function in a language (mostly English) not normally spoken in the host country. Usually, there is a significant proportion of the church who have English as a second language.
  • A majority of people are from other countries – expatriates / people of the global diaspora / foreign passport holders. (In some major cities, the growing numbers of nationals who have been internationalized through substantial overseas experience has resulted in some international churches with a majority of nationals who are culturally more at home here than in the national church. In some others, it is illegal for nationals to attend.)
  • A cultural flavoring and rich diversity, with strong global and global-nomad perspectives, which reflects the mix of nationalities and cultures involved. Typically, multi-national, multi-cultural, multi-denominational. They are very intentional in preserving a focus on this diversity with a primary concern to serve (or minister to) expatriates.

Other typical characteristics include …

  • There are at least fifteen hundred international churches across the globe. They can be found in nearly all major cities, especially where English is not the main language. Most major and capital cities have several international churches.
  • They are growing into their God sized appointments around the world understanding their unique placement and therefore increasingly designating personnel, funds, strategic planning towards reaching least reach people groups.
  • They are usually interdenominational, though a proportion are denominationally based. Denominational international churches may not always have the same breadth of multi-denominational expression
  • They tend to have a high turnover of people as people transition in and out of the country.
  • They tend to have fewer retirees (and a younger leadership) and fewer post high school students as retirees usually go back to their home country. Otherwise they are multi-generational.
  • They range from very small gatherings with volunteer leadership through to large mega-churches with multiple sites multiple pastoral staff.
  • They have a concern to reach out to and serve the wider expatriate community and, depending on the local context, often also have various roles in supporting the national church and contributing to the well being of the city in which they are placed.
  • The practical challenges of living far from home country tend to be a significant part of the international church agenda.
  • There are English speaking international churches in English speaking countries. The emphasis in these is on cultural diversity and the concerns typical of expatriates.
  • Some international churches may have a majority of nationals but are very intentional in preserving a focus on cultural diversity with a primary concern to minister to expatriates.

But not…

  • Expatriate churches that serve a single ethnic, national or language group. These too can be found in most cities across the world. They are not usually included in what we mean by international church. Ethnocentricity may be a challenge to overcome on the missional journey.
  • Necessarily churches that include the word “international” in their name who do so to reflect the international character of the Kingdom but are not international churches as described here.
  • National churches that include amongst their services an English speaking congregation. The church may not be international but the congregation may reflect the main features of an international church – language, passport and cultural diversity.