10 Steps to Planning a Youth Ministry Retreat

Jacob Eckeberger
October 31st, 2016

Retreats, especially during teenage years, can be extremely formative experiences.  In order to allow for Discipleship to develop through the experience of a youth group, teenagers must feel comfortable and want to participate in the youth events. Attending youth group for the first time on a Sunday night can seem intimidating if they are uninvolved already. Whereas retreats may seem even more overwhelming, they allow for the time to really get to know others.

Spending time together for an extended period of time can lead to friendships and fellowship that provides a space for youth to be themselves.  Once a youth feels comfortable being themselves or that the space is safe, they are more likely to open up about their faith and life experiences.  When those relationships are established, you can encourage more small group discussions and Bible study experiences where the youth are willing to share their testimonies of faith or share their doubts and questions.  For me, this is the key to a lasting Discipleship with Christ, sharing your story with others and learning from others stories in return.  When we learn from each other, we get a full picture of who God is.

To help plan a retreat, here is a “10-step” process that can help you ask all the right questions to prepare for the weekend:

Retreat Planning Process

1) Pick a date

Doodle.com calendars are a great way to survey parents/youth on their schedules. You can send an electronic link to allow feedback on what date works best for the most people.  Be sure to keep in mind any major church-wide events that may be happening that you would want your youth to be a part of – and avoid those weekends.  Try to plan it at least 3-4 months out.

2) Budget

Does your church have a youth budget? Is there money that the church can give for a portion of the cost? How much do you suppose families can give? Starting with these questions can help you make some major decisions, for example, can the retreat be at a retreat center or camp? Does it need to be a lock-in at the church to cut back on cost? If you use a retreat center, will they provide food? Do you want to incorporate any activities that cost money as part of the retreat? Budget often drives the activities for the retreat.

3) Start sign-ups

Once you have figured out your budget, it will be a good idea to ask for a deposit from families to confirm their commitment to the retreat weekend. Even if it is a lock-in, a small deposit amount can help with any supplies or purchases you need to make ahead of time.  A registration deadline at least two weeks out can also help you plan with how many numbers you have.  This helps with gathering any supplies or accommodations you need to make for that amount of people (i.e., how many volunteers do you need?)

4) Pick a Theme

Pick a theme or Scripture that speaks to you. What is something that is stirring in the hearts of your youth at the moment?  Social Justice – is there a topic your youth want to learn more about? Rest – do your youth find themselves caught in busy schedules and need to learn how to take Sabbath time? Thankfulness – do you plan to have your retreat around Thanksgiving? The possibilities are endless! Pick a Scripture that goes along with the theme, but is relatively short.  It should be something that the youth can remember easily, or have some key points that they can apply to their everyday lives.

5) Create lesson goals

Once you have decided on a theme, what are the major lessons you want your students to get out of this? Think about how these lessons can be broken down into small group lessons and/or leader-led messages.

6) Balance activities

Once you have started thinking about what your lessons may look like, make some decisions on if you want some small group sessions, individual journaling time, and/or large group messages. Having a variety will be helpful with different learning styles, however, these will depend on how big your group is. In addition to your lessons, make sure throughout your time together you take breaks and include some recreational activities.  These can be as simple as playing games as a large group, taking a walk outside, etc.  Again, some of these decisions will differ based on where you are located.

7) Create schedule

Finalize your schedule for the retreat. Creating a schedule and putting plans in place will help you identify the length of each activity and how much time you need to allow for it.  Having this in mind early on can also help if you have volunteers who may be helping with just a portion of the event, and/or if you need a specific space.  Giving this information out early to the given people who may need this information will be helpful for other groups making plans.

8) Plan food/housing

Make a plan for what kind of food you may need for the weekend. If you are going somewhere that they provide food, it may be nice to have youth bring a snack to share with the group as well.  If you need to provide all of the meals, see if parents will volunteer to cover a meal.

9) Recruit volunteers

The last step is to line up all the of the help you will need. Do you have adults who can stay for the weekend? Do you have adults who are willing to help cook a meal? There may be ways that parents or others can give even if they cannot stay for the weekend.

10) Pray and Evaluate

Leading up to the retreat, pray for your students and volunteers. Prepare your heart for the weekend.  Throughout the weekend, take notice of how your youth are involved and what lessons speak to them. Keep these questions in mind: What worked well? What situations arose that you felt unprepared for? Did lessons seem to resonate with the students?  Were there conflicts? It is important to do a self-evaluation of the weekend, but also check in with volunteers and the youth about things that you may want to change for next time.  Most importantly, observe if your youth seem to demonstrate the theme from the retreat in their everyday lives.

May the time spent together in retreat bring upon laughter, spiritual depth, and renewal.  May God use this time to deepen relationships – both with the Creator and with each other. Happy planning!

ashleymillsAshley Mills is the director of Discipleship at Worthington United Methodist Church in Worthington, Ohio. She has served there for three years, and she supervises children’s, youth, and college programming. She has a bachelor of science degree in Human Development and Family Sciences from Ohio State University and a master of arts in Practical Theology from the Methodist Theological School in Ohio. She has a passion for equipping young people for effective leadership within their churches and communities.

Twitter: @ashleymills__
Instagram: @ashleylaurenmills


Jacob Eckeberger

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.