How Retreats Impact Our Students

Youth Specialties
July 8th, 2016

Over the past two years, I’ve enjoyed being part of two Facebook youth ministry communities. I’ve read some awesome conversations about theology, music, games, camps, what to do about “that” kid, etc. However, I have not seen very much discussion on youth retreats. I’m not talking about DNow weekends or other denominational weekend camp-type experiences—I’m talking about take-the-youth-and-get-away-to-be-with-Jesus retreats.

Retreats are great youth ministry tools. There are thousands of reasons why, but for this post, I would like to focus on three reasons why adding a retreat—or two—to your calendar would be win for you and for your students:

Retreats build unity.

Shared space is almost always going to produce a stronger sense of community and unity for the people sharing that space. Sharing a bathroom or sleeping on a bunk bed or church floor may not sound like a trip highlight to you, but it will create memories and bring the youth to the same level.

Assign your group chores, such as setting tables, washing dishes, or sweeping floors. You might be surprised how many youth don’t engage in these activities on a regular basis. Chores are way more fun to do in a group, and working together will help the teens build unity.

Icebreaker activities and group-building games are another great way to foster unity within your youth group. For example, don’t just play volleyball—play blanket volleyball. This is the same concept as volleyball, but the teams must work together to catch the ball on a blanket and return it to the other side. For these types of activities, be intentional about how you divide the group into teams. This is an opportunity for youth who may not interact during youth group to see each other in a new light.

Retreats allow space for youth to see and hear God.

Our youth ministries are full. From the opening game to the last small group question, we’re running nonstop from week to week to week. We share the gospel and invite youth to accept Jesus into their lives, but it’s hard to give students time and space on a weekly basis to see and hear God. We have schedules to keep, and youth are frequently running from activity to activity. Retreats get students away from their routines and activities so they can learn how to be quiet and listen.

We’ll need to teach our youth how to do this—remember, not many of us were great at spending time with God when we first tried it! Begin with concrete experiences, and move into less concrete ones—this will help your students feel less awkward. On my most recent retreat, I started by having the youth quietly go outside to find objects that reminded them of God. They brought the objects back, and we talked about how and why these things reminded them of God. Then we used journals: We asked students to use their journals to pray. You can also have your students read a passage of Scripture three or four times and then write what they were thinking as they read it. Ask the following questions:

  • What was God saying to you?
  • What did the Scripture say?
  • What phrases stood out the most?
  • Why?

All of these activities will help youth begin to feel more comfortable begin quiet with God.

Retreats prepare youth for ministry.

Throughout Jesus’ time on earth, he found time to get away from the crowds to spend time with his Father. In Matthew 4, we read about Jesus retreating into the desert to be alone with God. During this time, he was tempted, he fasted, and he encountered the devil. Though the devil tried to change Jesus’ object of worship, Jesus could not be swayed. After he left the desert, Jesus entered into his time of incarnational ministry.

As youth leaders, we need to model this to our youth.

[bctt tweet=”Time spent in stillness with God is time when we hear God’s voice.” username=”ys_scoop”]

That stillness (Psalm 46:10) shapes us and moves our hearts to be passionate about the ministry he wants us to carry out right where we are.

Here are some practical ideas for you to think about as you begin to plan youth retreats:

  1. Start close to home.

If you’re having a weekend retreat, consider the distance. You don’t want to spend the majority of your weekend traveling. My church is fortunate to have a UMC camp about two hours away—it’s a great retreat spot. (Thanks, Riverside Retreat!) Many state parks have cabins or lodges you can rent. And don’t be afraid to ask your congregation—maybe someone has a cabin or vacation spot they would be willing to let the youth use for a retreat. You can also ask your students—often they’ll come up with great ideas that hadn’t occurred to you.

  1. Be flexible!

You should plan a schedule, but you also need to be in tune with your group. If a game isn’t going well, scrap it and move on. If a small group discussion has gone long, but the youth are still into it, let them keep going. At one of our retreats, we introduced ga-ga ball to the group. We scheduled free time for after this game, but the youth liked it so much they continued to play it for the entire afternoon—it was a great time for all of us! At another retreat, we planned a 30-minute quiet time and journaling activity, but the youth remained silent and actively journaled for an hour and a half. We would have lost some of the momentum of the retreat had we cut this activity short. Have a schedule, but make sure you have plans B and C ready—and then have plan D in your back pocket, just in case!

  1. Pick a great theme or idea, and build your retreat around that.

Our most recent retreat theme was #statusupdate. (This wasn’t an original idea—I saw the title on Pinterest and built lessons around the theme.) During this retreat, we had sessions such as OMG: Who is God to you? and IDK: What does God think about you?

You can also have a low-tech/no-tech retreat. Go old school, use as little technology as possible, and emphasize face-to-face communication. You can also use a concept as simple as silence as a great retreat theme. For this retreat, you could have extended periods of silence or an entire weekend of silence. Or plan a mystery retreat where you have your group get ready without knowing the destination or what they’ll do. If you plan this type of retreat, you can talk about how students can follow God even when they don’t understand everything he’s doing.

I love retreats! There aren’t many things better than getting away from life’s busyness in order to help youth learn how to listen for God’s voice.

beckyBecky Gilbert serves a Youth Pastor at First UMC of Homestead. She resides in Homestead, Fl with her husband, Larry and three kids, Hunter, Hudson and Harlowe. When she is not working with youth, she spends time exploring as many beaches in south Florida and the Keys as possible!

Youth Specialties

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