We do retreats because youth are busy, multi-tasking, surrounded by tons of other options and opportunities. Retreats offer an oasis in the midst of spiritual deserts. They offer silence in the midst of chaos. They offer community in what can be a lonely teenage world.
In the life of a church or youth ministry, retreats are essential. They provide a time and place for intentional bonding within the group. When numbers allow, it is great to be able to split the middle and high school students and have separate retreats for each. The youth group feels less overwhelming to incoming Sixth graders when they know they are only spending a weekend (or one night) with Seventh and Eighth graders.
Retreats should be purposeful. They can set the tone for the year or reinforce relationships that were formed at youth camp during the summer. They can be used to kick-off a new program or small group. They can also be a place to celebrate the end of something (like the culmination of a group study). Retreats can also be a stand-alone event with a set purpose.
Retreats are also a great place for growth. They allow youth a safe space to step up and provide leadership. This leadership will show itself both in structured and unstructured activities – for example, the senior who takes it upon himself to spend time with the freshmen or the seventh-grader who realizes she has an important voice in group discussion and begins to ask questions and give answers for the first time. The leadership and even spiritual growth will often show itself during the most unexpected times.
Retreats take planning. There are games to play and lessons to teach and meals to cook. Booking a site, buying the food, and gathering supplies can seem mundane, but the purpose behind these tasks can be helpful for years to come as youth continue to grow as community.
A few helpful hints can make a retreat a great success:
- 1. Balance is important. Allow time for focus and for play. Youth should be allowed to be kids, regardless of their age on retreats. Being silly and having a good time is part of being on retreat. It is something they do not often get to experience in their stress-filled days at school.
- 2. Find a retreat setting that is different from your “church setting.” It can be in someone’s home, a retreat center, going camping, etc. Some youth have never had the opportunity to cook hot dogs or roast marshmallows over a fire. Retreats can provide opportunities for new experiences.
- 3. Emphasize the importance of community building so the youth understand their goal for the retreat is to form or strengthen bonds with other youth. One new experience is communal responsibility. Youth can be in charge of cooking the meals and cleaning up afterward. This allows youth to take ownership and pride over the work they are doing for the group. It also allows room for the presence of Christ to show up. Through community building, each youth begins to understand their importance and the role they uniquely hold in the group. The youth will exemplify the body of Christ.
- 4. It’s ok to explain to the youth why retreats are important too. That will help the youth make the retreat a priority in their lives.
Kristin is a native of Danville, Kentucky and a graduate of the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, and the Louisville Presbyterian Seminary.
Fall and winter are the perfect time for youth retreats. It’s not easy to fit them into already busy schedules but it’s essential. Most families feel the ever-increasing tension about having to decide between “church stuff” like retreats and a lot of other activities. Youth need to learn now that it’s not going to get any easier to fit God somewhere into their lives. The best bet is to step outside the norm and build everything else around God and the church stuff.
The purpose of a Retreat is To rest in God and reflect on how to take the next step in faith personally and as a community.