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How interns can bolster your marketing efforts

SUMMARY: So you are getting an intern this year. You might have visions of finally having an assistant to do those repetitive and (possibly) boring tasks. However, the better route for both your church and your interns is to use his or her unique education, interests and talents to add fresh insight and new skills to your leadership team.

On the first day, ask interns about their ideas, education and interests, and listen for opportunities that would both excite them and improve church communications. (You may even want to start this in the interview stage to identify the candidates who can best contribute to your church’s goals.) Do they have technical skills that your leadership team lacks? Have they worked with multimedia communications? Do they speak another language or have particular knowledge of an ethnic group you are trying to reach? Younger interns will have insight into how to reach young adults. Once you have identified their strengths, create a work plan that includes enough freedom for the interns to grow and learn through their experience.

Here are some possible components for the work plan:

1. Write a blog about how the intern is applying his or her strengths, ideas and education to church outreach, ministry and mission efforts.  

2. Create a digital library of sermons. Tap into multimedia skills by asking the intern to suggest online links, videos, chats and other opportunities to give the sermons life beyond the pulpit. For example, if a sermon focuses on helping the poor, beef up the entry with video footage of church members volunteering to help persons in poverty.

3. Conduct a research project on church demographics if the intern has a research background. Having this data will help you to spot trends that could alter how you communicate, and it will give the intern an opportunity to interact with church members if you include one-on-one interviews along with data. If an intern is not as educated in research, he or she still can conduct interviews to glean information that can help the church and, at the same time, get acquainted with church members.

4. Update the church’s history with a new section on what has happened since the turn of the last century. Again, tap into the unique talents and skills of the interns. If they are studying art, they can depict the new section artistically. If they are studying film, they could make a mini-documentary about the church in the first decade of the 21st century.

5. Invite the interns to present a personal video biography (five to 10 minutes) during a worship service. The intern can splice in pictures of them growing up, family and friends, and showcase unique skills.

6. Ask the intern to find and coordinate speakers for a series of “coffeehouses” for younger members of the church. These do not have to be formal, but insert a religious element by having local activists give brief presentations on social issues that interest young people and align with church ministries.

7. Resurrect or rejuvenate your social media plan, including creating a maintenance plan (a to-do list of tasks with completion or status dates) so you or another communications staff member can keep up the good work after the intern leaves.

8. Update your church’s website. Many students learn those skills as part of their studies, even if their majors do not tie specifically to Web development. The intern could dedicate time each week to this as an ongoing project.

9. Develop new worship services and promote the dates, gearing the services and promotion to a younger audience. (Before starting, read the GBOD article about contemporary worship guidelines and policies.) Here are ideas specific to enhancing the worship service:

  • Cardboard testimonials: The intern can organize a service in which members give testimonials using cardboard signs while simple-but-appropriate music plays. You can see an example of a United Methodist service using this on YouTube.
  • If the intern is studying music or excels at playing guitar or another instrument, have them perform or lead worship for one or more services.
  • Is the intern an English literature major? Perhaps they could add modern poetry set to music or visuals. Let them present multiple ideas from which to choose.
  • Have them help to plan a unique service for an annual custom or celebration, such as Christmas or Ash Wednesday. They can be a member of a planning team for this.
  • Send the intern on a scouting mission to several other church services (United Methodist and other Christian churches) with an assignment of turning in 10 new ideas for worship services. A list of top10 things not to do might be fun as well.
  • Plan for the intern to make a presentation to the congregation about what they learned during their stint. Tell the intern about this job on the first day so they can gather photos, videos and other elements during the internship. They can give a multimedia presentation along with a thoughtfully written goodbye at the last service they attend.

Having an intern does add to your workload because you will need to plan and manage their assignments. However, it also offers an opportunity to learn new things and improve church communication. Be open to the experience of learning as the intern learns.