How to Start a Great Summer Intern Program

How to Start a Great Summer Intern Program

It’s summer, which means it time for cookouts, pools, youth camps, and internships. Every summer, youth ministries all over the country host interns in some form or fashion. Maybe they're paid, but more often they’re volunteer. Maybe they’re seminary students, or maybe they're graduating seniors from your youth ministry. Regardless of who they are and what stage of life they’re in, the key to having great interns is having a great program.

If you have interns but don't have a strong program, then one of a few things will happen. For starters, you may not have interns in the future. Word will travel about the quality of your program. The fastest way to make sure you won't have an internship program in the future is to have a poor one now. If you continue to have interns, you'll probably attract less than stellar individuals. So if the key to having great interns is to have a great program, how in the world do you put a great program together?

I’ve had interns on and off for years now. I’ve had programs in vastly different sized churches and cultures. Through my experience with interns (both good and bad) I've come up with five keys to a solid intern program, and I want to share them with you. Having interns and developing them well is not just good for you and your church, it’s good for the big “C” Church. It’s a place to raise up the next generation of youth workers, youth pastors, and church staff. It’s precisely because of this that we owe it to ourselves, our churches, and our students to do it well. So here are five keys I’ve found to having a great intern program.

5 Keys to a Great Intern Program

#1: Use applications and interviews.

This may seem simple, but it’s an absolute game changer in my opinion. If you want to have a great intern program, start by putting together a great application process. Our application gets the applicant’s information and includes a page of leadership questions. It also requires two written references from adults. After completing the application, potential interns go through a series of two interviews. I try to make these interviews happen with two different people. Our interns currently interview first with our pastor of leadership and development. If they get his recommendation, then they interview with me. It’s a lot, but it's worth it.

So why do we make it such a process? Well, it’s because I believe it separates those who are serious and those who aren’t. If they're not willing to go through the process & paperwork, they won’t be ready for the internship. A good application and interview process will help get the right people for your program.

#2: Have a plan.

This step is possibly the most overlooked by most youth pastors. You get a few interns. They turn out to be good and talented people, but you don’t know what to do with them. You are busy and don’t have time to teach them a lot, so they end up doing busy work the entire summer. Does this sound familiar? It does to me. I've seen it time and time again with youth pastors, and it used to be my story.

If you don’t have a plan for how to use your interns, they'll end up frustrated, under used, and devalued. This could be the most important part of the process. So before you start an intern program, come up with a clear written plan for how you will use them. Doing this right will take more of your time, so make sure you have a plan to set aside time to spend with them as well. When it comes to internships, remember this: if you have a good plan, they will have a good experience!

#3: Be intentional about development.

The primary goal of an intern program should not be getting work out of people, but developing them. Developing people won’t happen by accident though, it has to be intentional. Part of your plan for interns should be how you will develop them as people and leaders. There are a variety of ways to go about this, but the key is intentionality. I develop interns in four ways: one on one meetings; small group book studies, leadership classes, and hands on projects.

I meet with each intern for personal development at least once every other week. These meetings generally last 30 minutes and focus more on their development than performance. All our summer interns meet once a week with another leader for an intern small group. During this time they walk through a leadership book together. We also hold hour long leadership classes every few weeks. These are led by different staff members at the church. The final way we develop interns is through the assignment of a ministry project. Each intern is assigned a project based on their skill set, gifting, and personality. These projects are designed to stretch them and help them grow throughout the summer.

Regardless of how you go about developing interns, the important thing is that you do it. If you do this well, they will have a greater impact on your youth ministry. More than that, developing them well will set them up for a better future in ministry. You'll know you're doing a good job when your interns leave as better leaders than when they started. The key to developing interns is this: want more FOR them than you want FROM them!

#4: Limit them to a manageable number.

I found this one out the hard way. The easiest way to jack up an intern program is to take too many of them! My suggestion is to decide up front on a manageable number of interns and keep it below that number. The number may vary for each youth pastor, but in my experience it's usually 5-6 interns. When you bring on more people than this, it gets hard to give them the time and attention they need. It also gets hard to give them enough assignments to keep everyone busy. This isn't always a hard and fast rule, but 5 is my general recommendation for youth pastors. The key is to keep the number low enough so that you can manage and develop them well. It’s not about getting extra help from them, it’s about helping them grow and get better.

#5: Set clear expectations.

In leadership, clarity is kindness. There are few things I hate worse than having fuzzy expectations. Most of us desire clarity from our leaders, and interns are no different. The best way to help your interns succeed is to be crystal clear about what you expect of them. Be clear about when they should be there, how long they should work, and what they should be doing. Take the guess work out of it and they will perform better and feel valued. A lack of clarity will result in wasted time and frustration for everyone involved. Clarity is kindness, so set clear expectations from the beginning. Your interns will thank you for it, and so will your future self!

Do you have interns? Are you interested in starting an intern program in the future? We would love to hear your comments and questions . Also, let us know if you have something to add that will help take an intern program to the next level at [email protected]

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