International Churches of Christ
|International Churches of Christ|
An International Church of Christ Worship Service
|Classification||Christian, Restoration Movement, Christian fundamentalism|
|Orientation||New Testament, Evangelicalism|
|Associations||HOPE Worldwide, Co-operating Churches of Christ, DPI Books |
|Region||Global (155 nations) |
|Branched from||Churches of Christ|
|Separations||International Christian Churches|
|Members||2008 - 88 000, 2013 - 103 000 |
|Official website||International Churches of Christ|
The International Churches of Christ, once called the Boston Movement because of its original ties to the Boston Church of Christ, is a body of co-operating  religiously conservative, and racially integrated Christian congregations. A formal break was made from the mainline Churches of Christ in 1993 with the organization of the International Churches of Christ.:418 The ICOC holds to the belief that each person is saved by the grace of God if and when they place their faith in Jesus Christ, become a disciple, repent of their sins, and are baptized.
It is a network of 650 churches spread across some 155 nations, they consider themselves non-denominational. The network structure is intended to avoid two extremes: "overly centralized authority" and "disconnected autonomy." The organization of the ICOC has been described as based on cooperation between congregations rather than either "command and control" or "autonomy." The largest congregation, the Los Angeles Church of Christ, has 5951 members. The largest church service was held in 2012 at the AT&T stadium in San Antonio, Texas, during a World Discipleship Summit, with 17,800 in attendance, with representatives from 96 countries.
In 2000, it was described as "[a] fast-growing Christian organization known for aggressive proselytizing to [US] college students" and as "one of the most controversial religious groups on campus".
- 1 History
- 2 Church governance
- 3 Church Beliefs and Practices
- 4 The ICOC on US college campuses
- 5 Singapore High Court Ruling
- 6 Affiliated organizations
- 7 External links
- 8 See also
- 9 References
Origins in the Stone-Campbell Movement
The ICoC has its roots in a movement that reaches back to the period of the Second Great Awakening (1790–1870) of early nineteenth-century America. Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell are credited with what is today known as the Stone-Campbell or Restoration Movement. There are a number of branches of the Restoration movement and the ICoC was formed from within the Churches of Christ. Specifically, it was born from a "discipling" movement that arose among the mainline Churches of Christ during the 1970s. This discipling movement developed in the campus ministry of Chuck Lucas.
In 1967, Chuck Lucas was minister of the 14th Street Church of Christ in Gainesville, Florida (later renamed the Crossroads Church of Christ). That year he started a new project known as Campus Advance (based on principles borrowed from the Campus Crusade and the Shepherding Movement). Centered on the University of Florida, the program called for a strong evangelical outreach and an intimate religious atmosphere in the form of soul talks and prayer partners. Soul talks were held in student residences and involved prayer and sharing overseen by a leader who delegated authority over group members. Prayer partners referred to the practice of pairing a new Christian with an older guide for personal assistance and direction. Both procedures led to "in-depth involvement of each member in one another's lives", and critics accused Lucas of fostering cultism.
The ministry grew as younger members appreciated many of the new emphases on commitment and models for communal activity. This activity became identified by many with the forces of radical change in the larger American society that characterized the late sixties and seventies. The campus ministry in Gainesville thrived and sustained strong support from the elders of the local congregation in the ‘Crossroads Church of Christ’. By 1971, as many as a hundred people a year were joining the church. Most notable was the development of a training program for potential campus ministers. By the mid-seventies, a number of young men and women had been trained to replicate the philosophy and methods of the Crossroads Church in other places.
From Gainesville to Boston: 1970s-1980s
Among the early converts at Gainesville was a student named Kip McKean who had been personally mentored by Chuck Lucas. Thomas 'Kip' McKean, born in Indianapolis, Indiana, completed a degree while training at Crossroads and afterward served as campus minister at several mainline Churches of Christ locations. McKean enjoyed considerable evangelistic success in a campus ministry at Eastern Illinois University where he had moved to in 1976. By 1979 his ministry grew from a few individuals to over three hundred making it the fastest growing Church of Christ campus ministry in America. McKean then moved to Massachusetts, where he took over the leadership of the Lexington Church of Christ (soon to be called the Boston Church of Christ). Building on Lucas’ initial strategies, McKean only agreed to pastor the church in Lexington as long as every member agreed to be ‘totally committed’. The church grew from 30 members to 3,000 in just over 10 years in what became known as the ‘Boston Movement’.
While still a Church of Christ congregation, they differentiated themselves through high levels of commitment, accountability, mentorship and a numerical focus on conversions. Meanwhile, the epicenter of the new philosophy of ministry training and evangelism began to shift from Florida to Massachusetts. Moreover, the relationship between The Boston Church of Christ and larger CoC became more and more strained. During this period, Boston Movement leaders had begun to ‘reconstruct’ existing congregations. This began to cause a tension with the larger Church of Christ leadership that would eventually lead to a complete split. Parallel to this, the Boston Church of Christ began to plant new congregations at unprecedented speed for the Church of Christ at the time. The Boston congregation sent church plantings to Chicago and London in 1982, New York shortly thereafter, and Johannesburg in June 1986.
In 1985 a Church of Christ minister and professor, Dr. Flavil Yeakley, administered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test to the Boston Church of Christ (BCC), the founding church of the ICOC. Yeakley passed out three different MBTI tests, which asked members to perceive their past, current, and future personality types. While over 900 members were tested, 835 individuals completed all three forms. A majority of those respondents changed their perceived or imagined personality type scores on the three different tests in convergence with a single type: that of the group's leader. After completing the study, Yeakley observed that "The data in this study of the Boston Church of Christ does not prove that any certain individual has actually changed his or her personality in an unhealthy way. The data, however, does prove that there is a group dynamic operating in that congregation that influences its members to change their personalities to conform to the group norm".
By the end of 1988 the churches in the Boston Movement were for all practical purposes a distinct fellowship, initiating a fifteen-year period during which there would be little contact between the CoC and the Boston Movement. By 1988, McKean was regarded as the leader of the movement. It was at this time that the Boston church initiated its program of outreach to the poor called HopeWorldwide. In 1989 mission teams were officially sent out to Tokyo, Honolulu, Washington, DC, Manila, Miami, Seattle, Bangkok and Los Angeles. That year, McKean and his family moved to Los Angeles to lead the new church planted some months earlier. Within a few years Los Angeles, not Boston, was the fulcrum of the movement. At its peak (1999) the Los Angeles church reached a Sunday attendance of 14,000. McKean, finding that running the organization single-handedly had become unwieldy, selected a handful of men that he had personally trained and assigned each a number of churches in a geographic region, naming them 'World Sector Evangelists'. Later, the position of Geographic Sector Leaders was added. Since each city has a single church, its membership may be large and geographically disperse; if so, it was divided into regions and then sectors of perhaps a few small suburban communities. This governing system attracted criticism as overly-authoritarian, although the ICOC denies this charge. "It’s not a dictatorship," said Al Baird, former ICOC spokesperson; "It’s a theocracy, with God on top."
The ICoC: 1990s
In 1990 the Crossroads Church of Christ broke with the movement and, through a letter written to The Christian Chronicle, attempted to restore relations with the mainline Churches of Christ.:419 By the early 1990s some first-generation leaders had become disillusioned by the movement and left.:419 The movement was first recognized as an independent religious group in 1992 when John Vaughn, a church growth specialist at Fuller Theological Seminary, listed them as a separate entity. TIME magazine ran a full-page story on the movement in 1992 calling them “one of the world’s fastest-growing and most innovative bands of Bible thumpers” that had grown into “a global empire of 103 congregations from California to Cairo with total Sunday attendance of 50,000”. A formal break was made from the mainline Churches of Christ in 1993 when the group organized under the name "International Churches of Christ.":419 This new designation formalized a division that was already in existence between those involved with the Crossroads/Boston Movement and "mainline" Churches of Christ.:418 Other names that have been used for this movement include the "Crossroads movement," "Multiplying Ministries," and the "Discipling Movement".
Growth continued globally and in 1996 the independent organisation "Church Growth Today" named the Los Angeles ICoC as the fastest growing Church in North America for the second year running and another eight ICOC churches were in the top 100. By 2001, McKean was leading an independent worldwide movement that had grown from a small congregation to 125,000 members and had planted a church in nearly every country of the world in a period of twenty years.
Growth in the ICOC was not without criticism. First from within the Churches of Christ itself and then those outside. The most common criticism of the ICOC was aimed at ‘discipling’, a practice in which each member was assigned a spiritual mentor who provides spiritual advice and guidance to the congregant. A number of ex-members have expressed problems with discipling in the ICOC. There were a number of criticisms made of the church, some of which were true and others untrue. Although the ICOC experienced some negativity (particularly in the Boston Movement days), the church underwent some major changes in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The ICoC: 2000s
Once the fastest-growing Christian movement in the United States, membership growth slowed during the later half of the 1990s. In 2000, the ICOC announced the completion of its six-year initiative to establish a church in every country with a population over 100,000. In spite of this, numerical growth began to slow. Beginning in the late 1990s, problems arose as McKean’s moral authority as the leader of the movement came into question. Expectations for continued numerical growth and the pressure to sacrifice financially to support missionary efforts took its toll. Added to this was the loss of local leaders to new planting projects. In some areas, decreases in membership began to occur. At the same time, realisation was growing that the accumulated cost of his leadership style and associated advantages were outweighing the cost. In 2001, McKean was asked by a group of long-standing elders in the ICoC to take a sabbatical from overall leadership of the ICoC. In 2002 he resigned from the office and personally apologised citing arrogance, anger and an over-focus on numerical goals as the source of his decision.
In early 2001, the Senior Leaders began to question the effectiveness of the present leadership structure as well as the qualifications of Kip and Elena McKean to continue in their global leadership role. By September, the issue had reached a head in which the majority of the leaders agreed that significant changes were necessary. In September 2001, the World Sector Leaders “encouraged” the McKeans to go on sabbatical. In November 2001, the McKeans announced that they were stepping down from leading the Los Angeles Church of Christ in order to take a sabbatical for an unspecified amount of time in order to focus on "marriage and family issues". All of the McKeans' adult children had disassociated themselves from the movement.
In November 2002, McKean announced his resignations from his roles as World Missions Evangelist and leader of the world sector leaders. A year earlier one of his children had left the church. Referring to this event, Kip McKean said:
|“||This, along with my leadership sins of arrogance, and not protecting the weak caused uncertainty in my leadership among some of the World Sector Leaders."||”|
McKean's resignation was acknowledged by a short letter from the elders the following day. Later in 2002 the remaining central leadership was officially dissolved at the 2002 Los Angeles Unity Meeting.
At this time, the International Churches of Christ administration, under the leadership of Andy Fleming (a former missionary to Scandinavia and the Soviet Union), began to formulate a plan for a massive reduction in the overhead of the worldwide organization. The goal of this administrative plan was to refocus the resources of the local congregations on building up their own ministries as well as guaranteeing continued goodwill in future missions contributions. By the end of 2002, the overhead had been reduced by 67%, and Fleming resigned as the Chairman of the Board. The World Sector Leaders also announced the disintegration of their leadership group with the suggestion that a new representative leadership group including evangelists, elders and teachers, be formed with an initial meeting in May 2003.
The period following McKean’s departure included a number of changes in the ICoC. Some changes were initiated from the ICoC leaders themselves and others brought through members who had concerns with the ICoC’s leadership. Most notable was Henry Kriete, a leader in the London ICoC, who circulated an open letter detailing his feelings about theological exclusivism and authority in the ICoC. This letter had an impact on the ICoC for the decade after McKeans resignation.
Critics of the ICOC claim that Kip McKean's resignation sparked numerous problems within the ICOC. One such critic, Gretchen Passantino, claims that both members and ex-members of the ICOC noted the movement continued to experience problems. However, others have noted that since McKean's resignation the ICOC has made numerous changes. In the summer of 2003 the ICOC experienced a period of increased sovereignty among local churches. The Christian Chronicle, a newspaper for the Churches of Christ, reports that the ICOC has changed its leadership and discipling structure. Church leaders admit that some wrongs did happen prior to 2003, but maintain that such practices have since been reformed or discontinued. According to the paper, "the ICOC has attempted to address the following concerns: a top down hierarchy, discipling techniques, and sectarianism". In the years following McKean's resignation, the central leadership was replaced with "the co-operation agreement" with 90% of the churches affirming to this new system of global co-ordination.
Over time, McKean began to criticize some of the changes that were being made. After a period leading an ICOC congregation in Portland, Washington, McKean eventually started a new movement separate from the ICOC. He withdrew from the ICoC in 2006 and founded a movement that he called the International Christian Church.
The ICOC: 2020 Plans
In 2010 the Evangelists Service Team formulated a "2020 vision plan", that all the thirty or so regional families of churches have a plan to evangelize their geographic area of the world. The plan encompasses the need to strengthen existing small churches and plant new churches.
They plan to build and strengthen those churches through a "best-practices" approach to ministry: oversee and support those churches through strong regional relationships and provide additional training for their ministers and congregations through the newly formed "Ministry Training Academy" and "Disciple Bible Academy" being rolled out across the world, and provide global co-ordination and co-operation through "Service Teams" that specialize in "Campus Ministry", "Youth & Family Ministry" and other specialized ministries.
Church leadership is congregational rather than denominational. The International Churches of Christ have no formally recognized headquarters, or hierarchical church government. Rather, the congregations are a family or a network with each congregation participating in service and fellowship with other congregations.
The annual Delegates Conference held before a regional conference in various parts of the world gives an opportunity for the Delegates to plan, pray and fellowship with each other to foster global unity.
ICOC plan for United Cooperation
Solicitations for governing structures and methods of inter-congregational relationships were requested by November 1, 2005, with the goal of completing a final proposal by February 1, 2006. The International churches of Christ are now a family of churches who have signed up for a co-operation agreement as a way of co-ordinating the 600+ churches' efforts for global missions and maintaining unity. Mike Taliaferro, from San Antonio Texas, says "The co-operation plan is a far better way of co-ordinating and unifying a church family of the size and global nature of the ICOC. No longer can one man make sweeping decisions that affect all the churches. Building unity and consensus through prayer and discussion takes time but is worth it. The success of the Delegates conference in Budapest in December 2011 is testimony to the success of this less authoritarian approach"
The ICOC holds that the Bible teaches the existence of a single universal church. One implication of this doctrine is that, while Christians may separate themselves into different, disunified churches (as opposed to just geographically separated congregations), it is not actually Biblical to do so, and so such separations are not likely to take place between groups of Christians who are obedient to the Bible. And so there is controversy over who exactly is part of "the universal church" and who is not. The ICOC believes that anyone who follows the plan of salvation as laid out in the scriptures is added by God to his "One Universal Church".
This is consistent with their historical roots in the Churches of Christ, which believe that Christ established only one church, and that the use of denominational creeds serves to foster division among Christians.:23,24 This belief dates to the beginning of the Restoration Movement; Thomas Campbell expressed an ideal of unity in his Declaration and Address: "The church of Jesus Christ on earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one.":688
The ICOC sees God at work in many congregations around the world who are not necessarily affiliated with the ICOC. Christian churches, Churches of Christ and other Biblically sound churches have faithful Christians in them.
Ministry Training Academy
The current education and ministerial training program in the ICOC is the Ministry Training Academy (MTA). The MTA is not an officially accredited program but is currently being developed within the ICOC to train and educate future evangelists and leaders who do not choose to attend various other seminaries or Bible-based universities. The MTA has a board of directors that consists of teachers from around the world. This board has developed guidelines and a general curriculum that is then implemented and run locally by regions of churches in the ICOC around the world. This board serves to facilitate the implementation, assistance, and oversight of adherence to standards of each local branch of the Training Academy.
The MTA consists of twelve core courses that are divided into three areas of study: Biblical Knowledge, Spiritual Development, and Ministry Leadership. Each course requires at least 12 hours of classroom study in addition to course work. Once an MTA student completes the twelve core classes they receive a certificate of completion.
The ICOC directly administers or partners with over a dozen organizations. Some function as appendages of the church, others are entirely unrelated in their mission and activities. Of these, the largest and most well-known is HOPE worldwide, a charitable foundation started as the benevolent arm of the ICOC, which serves as the primary beneficiary of the church's charitable donations for the poor. Begun in 1991 with three projects in three countries and a budget of $600,000, as of 2012, HOPEww has grown to operate in 80 countries, serving 2 500 000 needy people each year, with an annual budget of $40 000 000.
- In Africa, their projects serve 148,000 orphans in eight different countries.
- In North America, there are 120 different chapters of HOPEww, which mobilised 1300 volunteers to serve victims of Hurricane Sandy.
- In Central America, 53 000 paediatric exams and 58 000 adult medical exams have been conducted with 23 000 prescription written.
- In Cambodia, HOPEww runs and staffs two free hospitals.
- In Bolivia, Hospital Arco Iris provides $1.4 million in free medical care.
A total of 75.6% of the charity’s budget is spent on the programs and services it delivers, according to Charity Navigator, America's largest independent charity evaluator. This charity evaluation algorithm has assigned HOPE Worldwide
- A "Financial" rating of 2 out of 4 stars
- An "Accountability & Transparency" rating of 4 out of 4 stars
- An "Overall" rating of 2 out of 4 stars, with the Overall score of 48.82 out of 70.
ICOC and mainstream Churches of Christ relations
With the resignation of McKean, some efforts are being made at reconciliation between the International Churches of Christ and the mainstream Churches of Christ. In March 2004, Abilene Christian University held the "Faithful Conversations" dialog between members of the Churches of Christ and International Churches of Christ. Those involved were able to apologize and initiate an environment conducive to building bridges. A few leaders of the Churches of Christ apologized for use of the word "cult" in reference to the International Churches of Christ. The International Churches of Christ leaders apologized for alienating the Churches of Christ and implying they were not Christians. Despite improvements in relations, there are still fundamental differences within the fellowship. Early 2005 saw a second set of dialogs with greater promise for both sides helping one another. Harding University is contemplating a distance learning program geared toward those ministers who were trained in the International Churches of Christ. A video chronicling the "First forty years of the ICOC" details these developments.
Church Beliefs and Practices
The ICOC regards the New Testament of the Bible as the supreme authority on doctrine, ecclesiastical structure, and moral beliefs. They acknowledge the Old Testament as historically accurate and divinely-inspired, and its principles as true and beneficial, but hold that its laws are not binding under the new covenant in Christ unless otherwise taught in the New Testament. Through holding that their doctrine is based on the Bible alone, and not on creeds and traditions, they claim the distinction of being "non-denominational". Members of the International Churches of Christ generally emphasize their intent to simply be part of the original church established by Jesus Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection, which became evident on the Day of Pentecost as described in Acts 2. They believe that anyone who follows the plan of salvation as laid out in the scriptures (as per the understanding of the ICOC) is saved by the grace of God.
Like the Mainline Churches of Christ, the ICOC recognizes the Bible as the sole source of authority for the church and believes that the current denominational divisions are inconsistent with Christ's intent. The ICOC, in order to unify congregations, taught that there should only be one church in each city. That church may have multiple satellite congregations or regions but they should form one church. Christians ought to be united Both organizations teach the necessity of baptism by immersion for salvation, but both reject infant baptism, teaching that baptism is for believers.
The ICOC affirms some moderate beliefs of Cessationism, but not original sin, the perseverance of saints and predestination. It does acknowledge incarnation, atonement, and amillennialism. Its view on Ephesians 2:8–9, is straightforward; people are saved by the grace of God in order to do good works which were prepared in advance for them to do.
Pepperdine University published a document in 2010 highlighting the core beliefs of the ICOC:
GOD: FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT
- 1. The eternal purpose of any Christian is to know God and to glorify him as God, and let our life shine so others will see God. Our devotion and ultimate loyalties are to the Father, who is over all and in all and through all; to Jesus the Son, who has been declared both Lord and Christ; and to the Holy Spirit, who lives in us and empowers us to overcome the workings of the sinful nature (Acts 2.22-36, Rom 8.12-28).
- 2. The cornerstone of our faith is our belief in Jesus Christ. Everything we hold dear in our faith originates from his words and his way of life (John 3.16, John 12.47-48, I John 2.5-6).
- 3. The Bible is the inspired and infallible Word of God. It is sharp, powerful, effective, challenging, exposing, and encouraging when it is revered, studied, preached, taught, and obeyed because it is from our Creator and therefore relevant for all generations (1 Tim 4.13, 2 Tim 3.16-17,4.1-5, Heb 4.12-13).
GOSPEL: THE WORK OF GOD
- 4. Our salvation totally depends on the work of God, prompted by his own mercy and grace, not our good deeds. That work redeems those who hear, believe and obey the Gospel message through baptism into Christ through their faith in God's power and continue to remain faithful unto death (Rom 2.7, Acts 2.22-37, Eph 2.8-10, Col 2.12, Heb 10.32-39, Jas 1.12).
- 5. Our earthly mission involves every member's participation in the Great Commission to "Seek and save what was lost," in bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to all parts of the world. As we go about this mission, our testimony must be consistent with a Christ-like life of doing good deeds and supporting and encouraging other Christians and churches around the world. In imitation of Jesus' mission, we are committed to remembering the poor by demonstrating compassion to those who suffer by regularly doing whatever we can to lessen their burdens and supporting group benevolent efforts through international agencies such as HOPE worldwide and others (Matt 28.19-20, Acts 10.37-38, Col 3.1-6, Luke 19.10, Gal 2.10, Jas 1.27).
- 6. Our motivation to love God, love each other and love the lost is prompted by God's love for us, demonstrated in its greatest form by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on a cross for our behalf (2 Cor 5.14-21,1 John 3.16, Luke 10.27).
The ICOC teaches that that water baptism into Christ is necessary for salvation according to Acts 2:38 and Matthew 28:18-20., They claim that "faith alone" is not sufficient, supported by James 2:14-26 unless an individual by faith obeys God in baptism, believing that baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. The ICOC maintains that one is saved by grace, through faith, at baptism, and that anyone, anywhere who follows God's plan of salvation as found in the scriptures is saved. It has taught for years that baptism is an integral part of any sinners conversion, thus it has been criticized for this stance by traditional religious groups. The ICOC, like the Churches of Christ, teaches that the "Sinner's Prayer" is not biblical as supported by James 2:14-26 and Matthew 7:21-23. Steven Francis Staten argues that the sinner's prayer represents "a belief system and salvation practice that no one had ever held until relatively recently." The evangelical preacher Francis Chan has made statements that contradict the sinner's prayer and emphasizes baptism and the Holy Spirit.
David Platt, head pastor of The Church at Brook Hills and author of the book Radical in an article in Christianity Today: "Is it possible for people to say they believe in Jesus, to say they have accepted Jesus, to say that they have received Jesus, but they are not saved and will not enter the kingdom of heaven? Is it possible? Absolutely, it's possible. It's not just possible; it is probable". While he affirmed that people calling out to God with repentant faith is fundamental to being saved, he said his comments about the "sinner's prayer" have been deeply motivated "by a concern for authentic conversions".
In agreement with the pervailing view in the Churches of Christ, the ICoC believes that it is necessary to have an understanding of Baptism's role in salvation. Faithfully following Christ and taking on the lifestyle and purpose of making disciples is very important to the movement. Every single member of every congregation is called to be committed to making disciples.
A typical Sunday morning service involves singing, praying, preaching, and the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. One unique element in ICOC tradition is the lack of established church buildings. Congregations meet in rented spaces: hotel conference rooms, schools, public auditoriums, conference centers, small stadiums, or rented halls, depending on the number of parishioners. The location may vary from month to month. Though the church is not static, neither is it "ad hoc" — the leased locale is often furnished with an elaborate stage and sound-system. "From an organizational standpoint, it's a great idea", observes Boston University Chaplain Bob Thornburg. "They put very little money into buildings...You put your money into people who get more people."
This practice of not owning buildings changed when the Tokyo Church of Christ became the first ICOC church to build its own church building. This building was designed by the Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki. This became an example for other ICOC churches to follow suit.
The One Year Challenge
To provide an international service opportunity for college age students, the ICOC has a program called the "One Year Challenge" (OYC) where graduating students take a year off and go and serve another church in the Third World or a recently planted church in the First World looking to reach younger people with the gospel. According to the OYC website, In 2012 the OYC sites that were been chosen are:
- Johannesburg, South Africa
- College Station, Texas
- Charleston, West Virginia
- Columbia, Missouri
- Sydney, Australia 
A Bible Talk is a small group of disciples that meet usually once a week. They can meet almost anywhere, including college dormitories, restaurants, and members' houses. Bible Talks, or 'Family Groups', are designed so that disciples can read the Bible together and build relationships with others in the church. All are encouraged to invite guests as a way for the guest to be introduced to the Church in a more informal setting. The Bible Talk is very similar to the "cell group" or "small group" structure found in many churches to facilitate close relationships amongst members.
Disciples are student-followers of Jesus Christ. The practice of discipling involves mentoring and accountability partnerships and is one of the central elements of the ICOC's beliefs. Members who have mentoring and accountability relationships ("discipling") believe that this practice is based upon and encouraged by Biblical passages like: Ecclesiastes 4:9–12; Proverbs 11:25; Proverbs 27:17; Hebrews 10:25; James 5:16 among others. They also cite numerous examples of such relationships found in scripture like Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus and the early disciples, Paul and Timothy.
Kip McKean, who was the leader of the ICOC until 2001, said:
|“||I believe it is Biblical for us to imitate the relationship Jesus had with the apostles and the relationships they had with one another. For example, the apostles had a student/teacher or younger brother/older brother relationship with Jesus. They also had adult/adult relationships with each other. Jesus paired the apostles for the mission. (Matthew 10) Both types of relationships are essential to lead people to maturity. Another text that demonstrates the student/teacher relationship is in Titus 2 where the older women are to train the younger women.
— Kip McKean
The church's emphasis on discipling has not been without its critics where the personal life of members are said to be controlled by their disciplers. A number of ex-members have expressed problems with discipling in the ICOC.
The ICOC on US college campuses
The ICOC has a history of over thirty years of evangelizing on college campuses. Each year an International Campus Ministry Conference (ICMC) is held for college students. In 2004, the ICMC in San Antonio there were 200 campus participants. In 2011, they had 2500 students meet in 2 different locations, one in Denver, Colorado and another in Athens, Georgia In 2013, the Campus Ministries of the ICOC raised $12 900 for "Chance for Africa", a charity that helps educate Primary and Secondary School children in Africa. The 2013 ICMC conferences were held in Orlando, Florida and San Diego, California with 2700 students in attendance. The students set a new World Record by holding a lightsaber battle with 1200 lightsabers being used, (bettering the old record by 200). These lightsabers were then donated to orphans.
The ICOC has received criticism for its proselytizing on US college campuses. U.S. News and World Report ran an article in 2000 discussing proselytizing on college campuses. The article's author, Carolyn Kleiner, describes the ICOC as "[a] fast-growing Christian organization known for aggressive proselytizing to college students" and as "one of the most controversial religious groups on campus". Kleiner states that "some ex-members and experts on mind-control assert [it] is a cult". Furthermore, "[a]t least 39 institutions, including Harvard and Georgia State, have outlawed the organization at one time or another for violating rules against door-to-door recruiting, say, or harassment." Kleiner asks: "A zealous group to be sure, but is it a cult?", Professor Jeffrey K. Hadden, responded "[e]very new religion experiences a high level of tension with society because its beliefs and ways are unfamiliar. But most, if they survive, we come to accept as part of the religious landscape". U.S. News and World Report also quotes ICOC spokesperson Al Baird, who says "We're no more a cult than Jesus was a cult".
At the University of Southern California, the school newspaper ran an article criticising the church, after questioning the sources of the article the Dean of Religious Life, Revd. Elizabeth Davenport, Senior Associate Dean of Religious Life, and Sherry Caudle, Administrator for the Office of Religious Life wrote a letter to the editor. The school officials said that the author's information was "outdated and misleading." They said "the church is unfairly and incorrectly identified" as a problem group. They also said that the truth is "the church has been a very positive influence in the lives of the USC students in recent years." 
Singapore High Court Ruling
The Central Christian Church in Singapore, which is a part of the ICOC family of churches, won a court case (SINGAPORE HIGH COURT - SUIT NOs 846 and 848 of 1992 Judges LAI KEW CHAI J Date 29 AUG 1994 Citation  1 SLR 115) where the judge ruled against a newspaper that had accused the Church of being a cult. An expert on religious studies testified that the Central Christian Church's practices were "neither strange, unnatural or harmful."
Multiple ICOC churches have a Chemical Recovery Ministry aimed at helping people with addictions to alcohol, drugs and nicotine.
The following institutions are informally operated or managed by the ICOC:
- KNN/Disciples Today.net, a production of Kingdom News Network (KNN) — non-profit religious corporation in Illinois. www.disciplestoday.org
- Discipleship Publications International — Published 175 books in 25 different languages.
- Illumination Publishers International (IPI) — Christian writing and audio teaching
- Athens Institute of Ministry
- Baltic Nordic Missions Alliance
- European Bible School
- Florida Missions Council
- International Missions Society, Inc. (IMS)
- Taiwan Mission Adventure
- Ministry Training Academy
- Association of Religion Data Archives
- "Religious Affiliations, 2000". U.S. Membership Report. The Association of Religion Data Archives. 2006. Retrieved 2007-12-11.
- "About The ICOC," ICOC HotNews, 03/02/2013 (accessed 11/17/2013)
- Justin Cooke (23 April 2001). "International Churches of Christ a.k.a.- Boston Church of Christ". New Religious Movements. University of Virginia. Archived from the original on 2007-12-18. Retrieved 2007-07-08.
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