On the first day of my first internship during college, my supervisor told us there was one important rule we needed to follow if we were going to have a great experience with the organization.
Interns are not allowed to make coffee.
While this “rule” became somewhat of a joke around the office, I think the underlying principle behind it is a valuable one. We knew from the onset that we were not there simply to be the office “gophers.” It demonstrated to us that we were valued as interns and brought on for the summer to do more than just make coffee and run errands.
If those are the only kind of tasks you plan to give your interns, then you probably shouldn’t have an internship program.
While I do believe churches (and organizations) often times bring interns on to serve as extra hands for a heavy workflow, the goal should also always be to offer them ways to gain hands-on experience, and explore and learn about a potential career path. Ultimately, internships are meant to help young people grow:
Grow on a personal level – discovering their strengths and weaknesses.
Grow on a communal level – learning how to work well with staff members and ministry leaders.
Grow on a spiritual level – seeing how God can use them and refine them through the work they’re doing.
If you’re willing to intentionally engage your interns, I think you’ll find that you grow through the process, too.
Internships can offer numerous benefits and growth opportunities for both you and your interns, but there are a few key elements that have to be in place in order for that to happen. During the few months I spent interning at a church right out of college, I experienced both positive aspects of the internship program, as well as areas in which it could have been improved.
I don’t think there’s a perfect formula for this. All churches are different, so no two internship programs will look exactly the same. But as a former church intern, I challenge you to consider the following five suggestions on how to provide a great intern experience at your church.
Be ready for your interns when they start
Have at least one project or a few tasks in mind for them to start working on right away. This will ease them into the workflow and routines already in place. It will also keep them busy in that first week or two while everyone gets adjusted to a new person in the mix. Idle time early-on can be frustrating, and it may cause your interns to feel like they aren’t needed or wanted.
Schedule a group “intern time” each week
Make it a priority to gather all your interns together once a week to debrief on their experiences and continue to grow as a group. You might have your interns read a book that you all discuss together during this time. Or ask other staff members to come and share about their experiences in leadership and ministry. This time will look different depending on how your internship program is set up. The important thing is that you continuously check in on your interns, encourage them, and challenge them to dig deeper.
Give them responsibility
Interns are at your church to learn. The only way they can do that is for you to give them responsibilities and trust them to follow through. Delegating can be hard, especially when you’re giving tasks to less-experienced people. But there’s a good chance you brought on interns to help ease the workload, so you need to let them help. And I think you’ll find that as you trust them more, they’ll work harder because they feel valued.
Ask them what they think
Your interns bring with them a fresh perspective. As they get to know your church and become familiar with how things work, ask them for their opinions and ideas. They may be able to see things that you miss because you’re used to the system.
Call them out of their comfort zone
If you see potential, act on it. Ask your interns to do things that will pull them out of their comfort zone and challenge them. Sometimes the best way for them to learn is to have them do something they don’t feel fully qualified to do.
These suggestions will make no real difference if you’re unengaged and unavailable. Above all, make sure that you’re present with your interns. You’re willingness to advise and encourage them along the way will have the greatest impact.