How to Retain Ministry Interns Over the Long Haul

A new semester and a fresh cohort of ministry interns has arrived. You’ve worked hard to get this new batch of interns to hear about your program, apply, and, finally, enroll. By the time they sit down in their first training session or begin work on their first project, you’ve already invested a lot of time and energy in getting them there. But all of them may not make it across the finish line of your program. What can you do to increase your retention rate and realize the fruit of all your investment in these interns?

The following are some simple steps you can take now to help retain your new ministry interns over the long haul. Not only will taking these steps serve your interns by helping them succeed, but they help you, your program, and your ministry, as well. Programs with higher retention rates have healthier budgets and more graduates out in the real world sending referrals back into them.

Don’t Wait for Trouble To Start

There is no magic formula for discovering which ministry interns will struggle and which ones won’t. So instead of trying to discern which interns will need your help, make sure all of them know that you are there for them. A vital part of any new intern orientation process needs to include a review of any resources or programs designed to help them when they need it. But, they also need to know that there is a live human being who cares for them personally. That means every intern needs to have a meeting with a mentor or advisor of some sort who can personally extend support as needed. You may not be able to tell which intern is going to need your help, but all of them need to know they are cared for. If you can convince them of this, they will be more likely to reach out for help, if and when they need it.

Tackle Negative Thinking with Empathy

Most interns will face some kind of challenge or struggle as they go through your program. It may be an academic, financial, spiritual, relational, or some other kind of struggle. Helping your ministry interns realize that their struggles are real and valid can give them the strength to face their trials rather than leaving your program. Without this sort of validation or empathy, they can feel alone and the Christian faith was never designed to be done in isolation.

Empathy does not mean you encourage lax standards. Instead, it means you build encouragement into the structures of your program. Assess your interns’ strengths and advise them towards projects and opportunities that accentuate those strengths. Make sure interns have regularly scheduled touch points with staff and faculty where they can share and address any of their issues. Your staff should be encouraged to offer prayer and personal connection when an intern shares their difficulties. Sometimes an intern’s problems can be in an area where you can help them with additional mentoring or tutoring. Other times your intern may have a financial hardship or a health problem that is beyond your ability to fix. But whatever their struggle, if they know you are cheering them on, they are more likely to stick it out to the end. And that’s good for both of you.

Communicate the End Goal with Frequency and Clarity

Whether your program is a 1-year Christian gap program or a multi-year leadership development internship, students need to be reminded of the end goal of your program. They need to know that the work they are struggling through has meaning and a purpose towards some greater end. Much of this involves good academic design on your end. Programs, projects, or classes or training sessions that don’t lead towards achievable and measurable goals can be a discouragement for students. And that discouragement can result in lower retention rates.

This is an area Eleven:6 specializes in whenever we work with our frontline ministry partners. So many times we see ministry leaders choose or create good content or classes but don’t tie those elements into a measurable goal. Or if they do have goals, ministry leaders don’t build in enough assessment and feedback points to allow interns (and staff) to see that they are progressing towards those goals.

One of the more straightforward ways to communicate that an intern is progressing is by tying academic credit — including full degree pathways. If an intern earns credit towards a degree while completing work in your program, then that work can feel more tangible and rewarding. And this is just one of the benefits of offering credit.

While most ministry leaders know their interns would love to earn academic credit, few realize how easy it can be with the right partner. If this is where you find yourself, then Schedule a Call with us and we can help you achieve this.

Whether you have a Christian gap year program, a ministry internship, or a church residency program, helping interns reach graduation is good for them and for your program. But to get there they will need to know that there is help, that you care for them, and that their struggle is worth it. Do these things and you will see more interns reach their full potential.

For over twenty years, Eleven:6 has been helping ministry leaders launch immersive training programs that can also earn students credit towards a degree. If you are working to make this transition, then schedule a call with us, today.