Generally speaking, student ministry retreats come in two varieties. One is a retreat in which the student ministry from a single church (or maybe two or three local groups) travels away from their home area for time apart, learning, growth and faith formation.
The second most common way for a retreat to happen is when a single church student ministry travels to join other students in a program that is already created and planned by another group – a denominational event or otherwise.
Each of these can have tremendous influence in the lives of students. In fact, a huge number of Christians begin following Christ during their teen years and most often the catalyst is an invitation during a special event, camp or retreat.
Here are eight components to a great retreat of either style – with your own church or as you join with a larger group in a conference/retreat setting:
Getting away is crucial for students. It used to be students who would need to get away for something to do. Nowadays, students getaways to take a break. Adults have done a great job of teaching students to pack out their schedules – morning, noon and night all week long. It’s part of the reason it’s so difficult to get students to sign up for special ministry events. But it’s also more of a reason to have them. When students get away from their regular routine, they are able to hear from God is a more clear way.
There are numerous ways to limit technology and a youth retreat is a great time to practice. There’s no reason to have a “movie night” if you are on a two or three-day retreat with students. They can get that anytime. Students should be taught the power of off. There shouldn’t be phones out during meals, devotions, worship services or group activities, which on a youth retreat is most of the day. Be creative and loving as you help students create boundaries with a device.
Retreats offer a chance for students to play. Play is a crucial ingredient for relationships, development, and health. The more you laugh, smile and move, the better your outlook will be. Play truly levels the playing field as you help students connect to one another. Plan opportunities for different types of play – thinking activities, adventure activities, moving activities, interaction with the beauty of nature, etc.
Retreats offer time for students to build friendships with one another. It allows leaders to grow in relationships with students (which by the way, you need plenty of adults on any retreat – it’s a great opportunity for them to connect for future ministry). If you have a three day, weekend retreat, it’s about 26 hours of awake time, which is equal to half a year of Sunday School (if you meet one hour each week). Relationships take time and a retreat offers time like nothing else. As adults build relationships with students, set boundaries, don’s play favorites, and ask lots of questions to get them talking.
Include invitations during retreats. Invite students to read the bible, discuss the messages, engage in Bible study and to pray aloud. Retreats offer perfect chances for this on several levels. Most of all retreats come with an invitation to follow Jesus as his disciple. It may be students following Christ for the first time or it may be students re-upping their commitment. It could be students decide to read scripture each day or begin a bible study. Each retreat should include an invitation to step forward, to step toward Jesus.
Worship God and Read Scripture
Worship on retreats ranges from full worship bands to someone with a guitar. Music is great for worship in a retreat setting, but you be creative in other ways too. Do a devotion outside under the stars, have students lead components to a worship service, etc. Also, use and read the Bible on your retreat. Have a theme verse. Memorize scripture. Use Bibles during study, during messages, and as students and leaders come up to talk. If you print t-shirts, put a scripture on it. Allow Scripture to be spoken naturally morning and evening so students can practice living life in God’s word.
Retreats can create lasting memories for students. Nicknames often form, stories are often told and retold and there are lots of great connections to a place – a retreat center, camp or other location. I have found that most often the memories from the trip there and back! For adult leaders, it’s stressful when the vehicle breaks down, there’s a problem with the retreat site or something doesn’t go as planned. But these are often the prime moments’ students will remember for sure!
Eat Great Food
It’s surprising how much of Jesus’ ministry moments centered around food. There were lots of conversations and life transformation as Jesus ate with sinners. There were calls and deep conversations of commitment during breakfasts and dinners. There were invitations to have meals. And there were powerful miracles and lessons that happened during lunch. Never underestimate the power of a shared meal, conversation, and ministry together in this way.
If you’re planning a retreat with your group – give us a call! We’d love to send a worship team to join you for the weekend.
If you’re looking for a retreat-style event to take your student ministry to, we’d love to invite you to join us at one of the Harvest Conferences.
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