I just finished the last weekend retreat of my small group’s junior year. One of the things I love about these kinds of weekends is somehow time doesn’t work the same way. Relationally, emotionally, spiritually there is SO MUCH MORE BENEFIT gained from 24 or 48 hours away than we would see in the same amount of time in a weekly meeting. At the same time, after YEARS of doing these kinds of retreats, I’ve learned there are a few things that are helpful to think about in advance if you’re leading a group of teenagers.
The dread factor. No matter how much you love your kids, no matter how easy your church makes it, something in you (like me) may get a tough case of DREAD right before the event. Not sure what I mean? More about that here . But simply knowing the dread is coming gives us a leg up on fighting it. A few days before the retreat, look back at photos or journal entires from your last retreat. Use that time to remember and remind yourself why weekends like this matter and how, at the end, you know it’s totally worth it.
Your health. Have you had a flu shot? I’m not kidding. Weekend retreats are great, but they’re also like petri dishes for colds and viruses. With a less-than-stellar immune system, I always try to make sure I get extra sleep, vitamins, water and, yes, a flu shot before we go on an event like this. Also, there is NO SHAME in carrying disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer.
Fun. Not all fun is strategic. Jumping off a roof onto the trampoline is just dumb. But ALL strategy has fun. Fun over time creates connection in your group and fun at an event like this creates a memory they’ll point back to all year long. So while you’re planning for meaningful conversation, also put some efforts into creating silly and fun moments together.
Rituals. Religious rituals can be weird for teenagers. Just last week I heard our youth pastor yelling, “Yo! It’s not a SHOT. Stop taking it like a SHOT!” while passing out the Lord’s supper. But rituals can also be meaningful for students and there’s just something about retreats that makes them less weird. My good friend leads high school guys, and every time someone makes a big decision about their walk with Jesus, the group has a ritual. They jump in a pool together (no matter the weather) to remember that they’re all in this together. In my group, each year we go out to the beach, look at the stars and talk about how God’s promise to Abraham included them. Also…at each retreat we sneak in food from Sonic. Rituals don’t have to be super spooky or overly emotional. Just having a rhythm of meaningful moments can make a difference .
Longevity. The best thing that can happen to your small group is for you to still be leading them a year or 3 years from now. So, while your noble intention may say to “just push through “or “stay up all night” or “deny yourself”, the kindest thing you can do for your group is take care of their leader. Maybe that means, scheduling a vacation day AFTER the retreat. Maybe it means always having your own room or bringing your own coffee maker or taking time away from the group to go for a run or call your family. Whatever rest looks like for you, schedule it and protect it. In doing so, you’ll be protecting your group from losing their leader (or losing their leader’s ability to engage) down the road.