5 Essentials for a Great Ministry Residency Program

Many ministries offer residency programs that help emerging leaders hone their skills and launch into their calling. Similar to internships, these programs are immersive and focused on mentoring and real-world ministry practice. But residents tend to take on increased responsibility compared to interns and are often full-time temporary employees. With this level of engagement, a well designed ministry residency program can propel a young leader into decades of healthy and productive ministry.

But not every residency program is created equal. Plenty of programs can discourage or burn out their young leaders – or their staff – before they ever get the chance to really succeed. After two decades of helping ministries build or improve their residency programs, we have seen, firsthand, what goes into making great ones. Here’s what we have learned:

Essential #1: Clear Goals Can Make All the Difference

Be completely clear on your goals for the ministry residency before moving forward with anything else. Changing goals later on in the process can be very challenging. Your ministry’s unique mission and how you communicate that mission will shape every aspect of your program moving forward. You need to know what your mission is but also who you are targeting with that mission. Bringing on the wrong sort of resident can frustrate all parties involved.

Essential #2: Structure Your Ministry Residency Program Intentionally

Ministry residencies tend to attract emerging leaders who already have at least some training. But do not expect to be able to throw them into ministry and hope they float. There is still much they need to learn. To help them learn you will need the four C’s:

  • Context – View your ministry residency as a 3-dimensional classroom that brings context to dynamic learning.
  • Content – Whether you build from scratch or pull pre-packaged content from somewhere else, the key is to select content that targets your goals.
  • Coaching – Residents succeed when they have a guide to help them apply the content they are learning. This includes focused assessment and regular feedback.
  • Calendar – List all the key dates that mark your normal ministry calendar. Sync the program learning objectives with these natural cycles.

As you build out or revamp your training structure be sure to remember that a ministry residency program is ideally situated to develop a fuller range of skills and abilities than a typical school or university. Namely, you have the live contexts that help residents develop their soft skills – things like working with people and applying principles in team contexts – and their hard skills – things like their ability to plan, develop a program, and process information and knowledge. Programs can easily lean too far into one of these areas while ignoring or undervaluing the other.

Essential #3: Have a Plan for Recruiting and Onboarding

Your objective is to develop effective disciple-making next generation leaders. In order to do that, you need the right people to sign up for your program. So who is the right kind of person for your program? Think through the details of how you will find these people, communicate to them about your program, and onboard them. Share the opportunity – and how to apply – within your ministry network, particularly if it includes any affiliated or regional Christian colleges. You might even reach out to focused ministry staffing websites or organizations.

Many great residency programs never get off the ground because they fail to properly market their opportunity and onboard those who are interested. You will need to think through practical things like whether you need social media, an email campaign, or a dedicated page (like this one) on your website. You will also need some kind of application process that filters for the sort of ministry residents you are looking for. You will need to think through not just how to market for applicants but how to market to the RIGHT applicants.

Essential #4: Prepare Residents for the Future

Remember, for your residents, your program is only a part of their journey. They feel called by God towards a certain path in life. You are helping them get started on that path with a ministry residency. But that residency will eventually come to an end. You can help them take the next step in their journey by connecting them to people, organizations, and opportunities.

You may have opportunities within your ministry for some of your graduates. Or you may know of opportunities elsewhere. Making sure you are connected with a network of like-minded ministries can help connect your ministry residents to people or organizations that would gladly hire them.

Essential #5: Evaluate and Refine Your Ministry Residency Program

Great leaders are always learning. The same goes for great ministries. You should regularly evaluate your ministry residency program with the goal of refining and improving it from one year to the next. You can use an array of tools including surveys, team evaluation meetings, and more. An outside partner can also help you in this task. This is a key function of our work at Eleven:6. It can be difficult to examine your own weaknesses. Having a trusted and reliable partner who knows what goes into building a healthy residency program can make the process much more effective.

There is a lot that goes into building a great ministry residency program. But seeing young leaders step into their calling equipped and empowered to do God’s work is worth the work. Not only are you raising up great leaders for the Kingdom of God, you are also positioning your own ministry to have first access to the best young talent.

For over twenty years, Eleven:6 has been helping ministry leaders build and improve 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.