7 Reasons to Consider Interning at a Small Church

Life Is Out ThereChurch internships are great. For the church and for the intern.

If they’re done right (yes, that’s a big “if”), they can confirm or define a call to ministry, provide real-life experience to enhance classroom learning and bless a local church.

If you’re a pastor who thinks you can’t run an internship program because your church is small, think again.

If you’re a college student or high school senior considering a church internship, a Small Church may be your best option.

For instance, the Small Church I pastor offers three different types of internships. A year-long residential, a summer intensive and a school year program for students.

In the last decade, we’ve seen over 100 interns come through our doors and bless our church. We’ve also been a blessing to them. Not in spite of being a Small Church, but in a lot of ways because we’re a Small Church. (In my case, it also helps that I have a great youth pastor, Gary Garcia, who runs the intern ministry. I just stand back and take the credit.)

Yes, big churches have a lot to offer an intern. They have options, programs and benefits that no Small Church can match.

But a big church internship isn’t for everyone. And Small Churches offer some significant benefits of our own. Advantages that big churches can’t compete with. Here are 7 of them. 


1. You’ll Learn About (Almost) Every Aspect of Church Life

The bigger the church, the more narrowly-focused the internship is likely to be. They might even have separate tracks for worship, youth, administration, etc.

But in a Small Church, you’ll touch every aspect of church life. Even if your main ministry focus is narrow, it will impact and be impacted by other ministries.

This will broaden your understanding of church life in a way that a narrow sliver of ministry exposure just can’t do.


2. You’ll Build Life-Long Relationships With People Who Aren’t Like You

In a big church, worship team members get to know other worship team members, youth workers get to know youth, etc.

In a Small Church, you’ll interact with people of all ages, backgrounds and tastes. Sometimes that will be a challenge. But that challenge will stretch you. And it will introduce you to wonderful people who you would not meet in any other aspect of your life.

Getting to know, appreciate and build life-long relationships with people who are different than ourselves is a big part of what being the body of Christ is all about.


3. You’re Going to Pastor a Small Church – This Will Teach You How

If your plans for future ministry include the possibility being a lead pastor, there’s something you need to know  – it’s one of my undeniable facts of pastoral ministry:

You will pastor a Small Church. At least for some of your ministry.

Even if you have plans to grow a church to mega-size, it won’t start out that way. It will start small. And it may stay small much longer than you expect.

That Small Church you’re going to pastor deserves to be pastored well. But it’s hard to do that if the only experience you’ve had in is bigger churches. Small Churches have unique characteristics, quirks and blessings that can only be learned by having ministry experience in them.


4. You Can Make Mistakes and Learn By Doing

An intern won’t get to preach on a Sunday morning in a big church. Or lead in worship. Or run a youth group. But you might have that chance in a Small Church.

In a big church, there’s an expectation of expertise, which can’t be compromised by giving newbies the reins – and rightly so.

But when there’s been no one leading in worship for years – as is the case in many Small Churches – someone who shows up with a guitar and a willing heart can lead in worship right away. The same thing applies in almost any other area of Small Church ministry.

If you really want to learn something, there’s no faster way than to jump in the deep end and make mistakes as you’re doing the job.

No, you might not feel ready for that yet. But if we all waited until we felt ready before we started doing something, nothing would ever get done.


5. You Can Bless the Church As Much As They’ll Bless You

Most of the Small Churches you will contact about an internship won’t have a program set up already. It’s not because they don’t want one, but because no one has ever offered to be an intern for them before.

If you want your internship to count for something – not just for you and your future, but for the church you’ll be working with – there’s no better place to be a blessing than in a Small Church where you can meet some real needs.

Let’s face the facts. A big church doesn’t really need you. They have people and systems in place already. They’ll be a blessing to you, but that’s it. I’m grateful to big churches for offering internship programs when it often costs them more than it benefits them.

In a Small Church, you will be able to meet some very basic needs from the first day you show up.


6. Your Impact Will Be Huge

When interns first arrive at our church, we tell them that we want them to leave their fingerprints all over the place by the time their internship is over. And that’s exactly what they do.

In a big church, one intern might barely be noticed. In a Small Church an intern can impact people, ministries and even the church building in ways that will last for years – not to mention eternity.


7. You Will Be Loved and Appreciated

Most Small Churches get very little help. So when someone shows up with a willing heart and gives it their all, they are usually met with massive love and appreciation.

A ministerial internship in a Small Church won’t be easy. As I mentioned earlier, most of them don’t even have an internship system in place. Some of it will be made up by you and the pastor as you go along.

But if you’re in a healthy Small Church (and be sure to check that out first – doing an internship in a dysfunctional church won’t help them or you) and you give it your all, you can have one of the most positive, loving, affirming experiences of your life.


So what do you think? Are you considering a ministry internship? Do you know of someone considering a ministry internship that you can pass this on to?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.

(Life Is Out There photo from Steve Italy • Flickr • Creative Commons license)


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9 thoughts on “7 Reasons to Consider Interning at a Small Church”

    1. Hi Ric. Well, maybe we can generate some interest in that for you. I know where you’re from (my general neighborhood), but why don’t you share some of that info here for others? It might help you connect with potential interns.

      Btw, I’ve met Ric. If you’re looking to intern in Southern California, he’s a good guy to consider working with. Click on his photo to go to his Facebook page and connect with him.

  1. I hope someone from our local university up the street from you sees this. I have had no response for intern help at our small, old peoples church.

    1. Mike, why don’t you do what I suggested for Ric (above)? Drop your info here and see if that gets any response.

      For my readers, I also know Mike and can vouch for him. He’d be great to work with.

  2. Karl, we must have had a brother/sister mind meld (which is a terrifying thought!) because my blog post today was a 7 list!

    You also gave me an idea. Setting up an internship program for moms. I think it would be a hit!

    Keep up the good work big brother!

    1. Thanks, Karen. I just read your post and it’s great.

      If any of my readers are feeling discouraged right now and could use an encouraging, heartfelt post from a mom who keeps on pushing her way through discouragements of her own, here’s the link to Karen’s post. http://www.jennyandpearl.com/seven-things-to-do-when-theres-nothing-you-can-do/

      Karen sells great vintage clothing there, too.

      (I know my blog isn’t a site for moms or clothing, but Karen really is my sister, so family has some privileges.)

    1. Hi Joe. We don’t pay our interns – at least not with money. Our full-time interns, whether year-round or summer, pay us a fee that covers all their basic expenses while they’re with us, including room and board. In exchange, they get hands-on experience and an education. And they live in a very expensive part of the country at a far lower expense than most people have to pay. Everybody wins.

  3. Pingback: Disrespectful, Thoughtless, Selfish! Yes, Your Church Can Reach “Kids These Days” - ChurchPlants

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