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5 ways to rethink your youth retreat

09 Feb Retreat, Student Ministry | Comments Off on 5 ways to rethink your youth retreat
5 ways to rethink your youth retreat

Time to Retreat

For many student ministries this is prime weekend retreat season.  Retreats are traditionally one of the biggest events in the student ministry calendar, and a lot of work goes into making them successful – training leaders, creating schedules, planning activities, making announcements, finding transportation, designing a theme, confirming the retreat site and making even more announcements.

Over the past ten years, I’ve had the privilege of coming alongside dozens of youth ministries of all shapes and sizes during their winter retreats and I’m convinced that this kind of opportunity to spend quality time together, proclaim the gospel and invite students to a deeper relationship with God is invaluable.

I’ve also found that most student ministries are very consistent in the design and implementation of their weekend retreats.  Themes and speakers change from year to year and new activities are introduced on occasion; but most retreat elements remain the same.

As you start preparing for your retreat or set the dates for a debrief meeting, here are five tips to help evaluate your retreat…


Elements vs. Outcomes

Retreats are always growing and changing with new and exciting elements (i.e. skits, videos, sports, contests, small group time, personal space, talent shows, etc.).  The temptation is to cram a new and exciting element into your schedule without evaluating it against your desired outcome for the retreat.  In a few years the retreat can end up looking like a long, random string of crazy fun elements that are disconnected from any focused outcome.

#1 Start with your DESIRED OUTCOME

The desired outcome of your retreat should fit the mission/vision of your student ministry.  It will serve as an effective filter for the different elements within your retreat.  Of course, it is okay to redefine the outcome each year.


Does your schedule flow?

Once you have elements that focus on a desired outcome it is critical to think about the flow of your retreat.  Most retreat schedules are jam packed full of great elements.  The temptation is to stack them one on top of another without considering the need for transition.  This is extremely important with elements such as main sessions, small group times, evening snacks, quiet hours, snow tubing, ropes courses, meals and free time.

#2 Create a cohesive FLOW

You may have to delete or rearrange some elements to provide the right kind of flow.  Consider using meal or snack times as a way to transition from spiritual formation to physical activity.  Allow times of transition to maximize the impact of general sessions, small group discussions and one-on-one conversations.


Outsource the message

I am a big fan of guest speakers.  As the ministry leader you are already working hard to prepare for your weekend retreat and your students already hear from you up front at church.  I have seen many pastors and ministry leaders go non-stop all weekend just to make their retreat happen.  From an outside perspective it looks like everyone but the ministry leader is “on the retreat”. By creating margin for yourself in the midst of the retreat, you’ll feel more freedom to invest into student’s lives with quality time.

#3 Go on the retreat WITH YOUR STUDENTS

Having a guest speaker allows you to engage with your students making the retreat a shared experience.


Don’t stop making disciples

Retreats are a large block of extended time encompassing a wide range of experiences that are similar to a student’s typical routines and relationships.  Unlike any of your other student ministry events, your weekend retreat is an excellent opportunity for discipleship.

#4 INVITE your students

By inviting students to live life with you on a weekend retreat, you gain a valuable opportunity to make disciples.  Make a plan for yourself, your leaders and students to focus on discipleship throughout the weekend.  The ripple effect will strengthen your leaders, challenge your students and make a lasting impact back home.


The square peg goes in the square hole

Camps are just as unique as the retreat groups they serve.  Camps have different numbers and sizes of meeting rooms, outside activities and indoor recreation.  Some retreat sites require walking from one building to the next for different activities.  Others offer exclusive use of their facilities making everything available to your group.

#5 Find a GOOD FIT

As you evaluate your retreat this year, take some time to make sure the elements of your retreat match the layout of the camp.  Do not be afraid to try something new in an effort to maximize your retreat site’s capabilities.


One last thought

Retreat sites love coming alongside their guest groups.  Our guest group equation is: Our facilities and service plus your leaders and program, equals a great camp experience.  I trust these tips will add up to an unforgettable weekend retreat for your ministry.

Have thoughts, questions, or ideas regarding your next winter retreat? Leave a comment and join the conversation with other youth workers that are experiencing the same thing.

Ben Myers
Camp Director at Arrowhead Bible Camp
Ben Myers has served as the Camp Director at Arrowhead Bible Camp in Brackney, PA for the past 13 years. Arrowhead is a ministry committed to discipleship through its programs for adults with developmental disabilities, missions opportunities for youth groups, and mentoring of High School and College students. Ben also teaches as an adjunct professor at Lancaster Bible College and holds degrees from Cairn University and Baptist Bible Seminary.