Happy Monday to you, and welcome back! I hope you have taken some time and look around the site. We have some really great resources available (Bible studies and a Retreat). All of our resources are created to be like a buffet. You can pick and choose what you want to use from each resources, for whatever works best in your setting. Each month we will add more resources.
We continue looking at some of the events that most often define youth ministry this week with the question…..

“Retreats: Why do them?”

Kristin Belcher

Kristin is a native of Danville, Kentucky and a graduate of the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, and the Louisville Presbyterian Seminary.  She resides in Louisville and joined the staff of First Baptist Church in July 2012. Kristin has spent many summers working for Passport, Inc. Kristin is also the Interim Office Manager for the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship and the Communications Assistant for the CBF Youth Ministry Network.  Kristin loves spending time with her nephews, Jaxon and Parker.

We do retreats because youth are busy, multi-tasking, surrounded by tons of other options and opportunities.   Retreats offer an oasis in the midst of spiritual deserts.  They offer silence in the midst of chaos.   They offer community in what can be a lonely teenage world.

In the life of a church or youth ministry, retreats are essential.  They provide a time and place for intentional bonding within the group.  When numbers allow, it is great to be able to split the middle and high school students and have separate retreats for each.  The youth group feels less overwhelming to incoming Sixth graders when they know they are only spending a weekend (or one night) with Seventh and Eighth graders.

Retreats should be purposeful.  They can set the tone for the year or reinforce relationships that were formed at youth camp during the summer.  They can be used to kick-off a new program or small group.  They can also be a place to celebrate the end of something (like the culmination of a group study).  Retreats can also be a stand-alone event with a set purpose.

Retreats are also a great place for growth.  They allow youth a safe space to step up and provide leadership.  This leadership will show itself both in structured and unstructured activities – for example the senior who takes it upon himself to spend time with the freshmen or the seventh grader who realizes she has an important voice in group discussion and begins to ask questions and give answers for the first time.  The leadership and even spiritual growth will often show itself during the most unexpected times.

Retreats take planning.  There are games to play and lessons to teach and meals to cook.  Booking a site, buying the food and gathering supplies can seem mundane, but the purpose behind these tasks can be helpful for years to come as youth continue to grow as community.

A few helpful hints can make a retreat a great success.

  1. Balance is important.  Allow time for focus and for play.  Youth should be allowed to be kids, regardless of their age on retreats.  Being silly and having a good time is part of being on retreat.  It is something they do not often get to experience in their stress filled days at school.
  2. Find a retreat setting that is different from your “church setting.”  It can be in someone’s home, a retreat center, going camping, etc.  Some youth have never had the opportunity to cook hot dogs or roast marshmallows over a fire.  Retreats can provide opportunities for new experiences.
  3. Emphasize the importance of community building so the youth understand their goal for the retreat is to form or strengthen bonds with other youth.   One new experience is communal responsibility.  Youth can be in charge of cooking the meals and cleaning up afterwards.  This allows youth to take ownership and pride over the work they are doing for the group.  It also allows room for the presence of Christ to show up.  Through community building, each youth begins to understand their importance and the role they uniquely hold in the group.  The youth will exemplify the body of Christ.
  4. It’s ok to explain to the youth why retreats are important too.  That will help the youth make the retreat a priority in their lives.

Andy Farmer

Andy Farmer is the Minister to Students at Vestavia Hills Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. He and wife Emily have a son, Jonah, born in April 2014. Andy is a graduate of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and Samford University.

In the rhythm of our youth ministry calendar, Fall Retreat serves multiple functions:

  1. As the quarterly “major event” anchored in between the start of the school year and Christmas break
  2. As the first overnight experience for new 7th graders, officially confirming their membership in the youth group
  3. As the catalyst and predictor for participation in youth group the rest of the year, including the following summer

If you’re interested in what we actually do on Fall Retreat, I’m happy to share our typical structure with you (andy@vhbc.com). My assumption is that it’s not a drastically uncommon model. As you know, though, different things work for different groups, different sizes of groups, and different group/community dynamics. What’s more important is why you do what you do.

The purpose of our Fall Retreat program is as follows:

To rest in God and reflect on how to take the next step in faith

We have fun for fun’s sake on the retreat, facilitate opportunities for building group chemistry, and want students to engage in active learning. But the retreat is built around rest and reflection. We have other programs that make those other things the #1 goal, so we don’t feel pressure to accomplish everything in one single event.

Here are our objectives:

  1. To reserve time and space for youth to spend “alone time” with God (solitude)
  2. To show them how they might do that in the midst of “real life”
  3. To step back and gain perspective on the demands of the semester
  4. To question the culture of hurry as a necessary and unchallenged lifestyle
  5. To be more fully present with each other (we take up phones/electronics for this particular trip)
  6. To encourage a more active and committed faith (accountability)
  7. To access “the creative side” available to those not in a rush or not obsessed with perfection
  8. To allow bonds to strengthen through praying, eating, and playing together

Most of those are oriented toward the inward disciplines, but we also acknowledge that all is social. They are probably also more on the “developed” end of a faith stage spectrum, and while all of our students and visitors are welcomed and met where they are, this particular event is more challenging than accommodating. We believe both are ways to express care. Again, we have other programs reserved for putting “challenge” on the backburner.

Finally, a bigger-picture word about why we do what we do at Fall Retreat:

Our retreat speaker this year facilitated learning and reflection on the theme of “Divergent.” The word resonates because of the popular teen books/movies and gave us an entry point to a key concept – with Christ, we are called to deviate from the mainstream path.  I liked this for a Fall Retreat theme because the most radical thing you can do today is hit the pause button. Walter Brueggemann has a book out titled Sabbath as Resistance. Retreating is the subversive effort we make in hopes that God will do work within us. This makes us different when we re-enter the world. As Flannery O’Connor figured out, “We shall know the truth, and the truth shall make us odd.”

I’m okay with the ever-increasing tension our families feel about having to decide between “church stuff” like Fall Retreat and a lot of other “opportunities.” Our youth can learn now that it’s not going to get any easier to fit God in somewhere. The best bet is to do the weird thing of building everything else around God and the church stuff. Doing the other stuff is understandable and makes you normal, but I’m not sure those are good reasons to do it.

In our context, if you miss Fall Retreat, you miss a lot. At the top of the list is the chance to be different.