One of the most effective things in my ministry is our Fall retreat. It gets students out of their normal routine, away from their daily distractions, unplugged from media, and ready to focus. It’s a pretty powerful time of spiritual growth, and community building.
I’ve done enough retreats over the past 13 years (and done enough of them poorly) to have learned a few things. Things I wish someone would have told me. So, in an effort to save you time and sanity, I’m passing these thoughts along.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning your Fall retreat:
1. Plan Early
Whether you’re joining other churches for a conference, or doing your own thing, its crucial to start early. I like to start thinking about it 12 months out (I know, crazy right?). You might not start that far in advance, but here’s a truth: the later you start, the higher the likelihood something is going to come back to bite you.
2. Involve Key Students In Planning
I’m not talking about just the students that come to your church most often, I’m talking about the influencers, those students who are the leaders in your group. Get them in on the plans from the beginning. Let their ideas shape the event. Not only is their input valuable in its own right, their energy for the event is often contagious drawing the interest of other students as they go.
3. Recruit Capable And Relational Adults To Help Plan And To Attend
These should be people that can take a task and a bulleted list of responsibilities and make things happen. Be sure to give them enough freedom to make decisions within the boundaries you set up. And make sure they are adults who are willing to really invest relationally in your students.
4. Run Your Event By Someone Else
Let others on your team or church staff listen to your plan. Allow them to voice concerns, identify strong points, and offer alternative ideas. Much of what you plan will probably stay exactly the same. But the insights you gain from the “what if’s” can be HUGE.
5. Have Clear Expectations And Roles For Adult Leaders
Every adult on my trips has a nametag and on the back of the nametag is exactly what they need to do, where to be, and when to be there. When your adults feel needed and utilized, they will find themselves fulfilled and looking to stay plugged in.
List out everything you have to do before, during, and after the retreat. Then go through the list and identify things that only you can do (this is humbling when you realize that there’s not much that only you can do!). Everything else on the list needs to be delegated to someone else. Whether it’s an adult leader or a trusted student leader, office staff or a college student, give it away. The more you do this, the more you’ll be able to invest in students and families.
So that’s my list. What did I miss? What have you learned about planning retreats over the years that you’d pass along?
Ultimately, spiritual transformation is up to God. Our role as student ministry leaders is to simply put students in the best possible position to hear from God. Keeping these things in mind should help make that a little easier!