20 Retreat Hacks

Planning a retreat soon?

I’m here at the Youth Ministry Institute annual retreat and I realized that many of you have a retreat coming up this fall. Even if you have your plans made here are 20 hacks you could still use to enhance your time away…

  1. Bring Your Own Survival Gear –retreats can be stressful. You make get sick and not have the comforts of home. Don’t be that gal or guy who is begging meds of people –Have your own survival kit of Tylenol, gravol, throat lozenges, personal snacks to help you survive the weekend.
  2. Plan your Thank You’s now. If you have coffee cards for your volunteers, a card for the camp staff, or something special for your band or speaker get this stuff before the last week before your retreat.
  3. Go there and Plan –even if you’ve been to the place before take a day or an overnight to plan and pray for your retreat. Think through all the enhancement to push your retreat from okay to exceptional
  4. Have prizes. Most groups skip this but we all love getting a prize. Make sure that everyone gets a prize for something.
  5. T-Shirts –that they won’t be ashamed to wear again. They may look good at the retreat put if you want to extend your ministry give them something that they will actual wear other times.
  6. Encouragement cards –set up an envelope system with each student name on it and have stacks of cards that students can put in each envelope. Provide times to do this. Give them out at the end of the retreat. Leaders should try to write out a card for each of their students
  7. Have one purpose. If it is outreach focus everything on that. If its building community analyze every hour of your programming to do that. If it is discipleship make even your games to achieve that objective.
  8. Surprise Them –nothing engages a student’s mind than surprise. Do the unexpected let a feast when they pull up at the property and leaders bring their bags to their rooms (young life does this!)
  9. Deliver More than Expected –student expect the same old routine –Blow expectations out of the water with amazing snacks –a secret event after bed time –a side trip from the retreat to some place like a hot springs or amusement park.
  10. Talk Back –students learn most when they react to what they hear. Give them a chance to react with a graffiti wall, texting in questions, comment cards, small group response, or emoji responses
  11. Sleep in –Sounds nuts since you have so few hours together kids try not to sleep –Try a later breakfast or brunch
  12. Dream Together –what if a session was based around their dreams for the Student Ministry then a committing to a collective group dream together.
  13. Let your leaders Speak –it takes some of the pressure or expense off you and they know the kids. Have them keep it short and let them speak from the heart. Make sure they keep it positive!
  14. Use Games that Teach. Try a faith walk following a string through the woods. Do the faith fall or other learning activities that drive your theme home. (I developed a simulation game had students searching the Bible for an hour.)
  15. Use Your Environment. There are things you just can’t do at where you normally meet. Take advantage of your location to do unique activities that you can’t do all year long or indoors.
  16. Have Prayer Stations. These things can run themselves –set up a room where students can go in follow instructions and pray in a way that involves all of the senses. Let the students use this room all through the weekend
  17. Use Interaction Cards. Students seldom know what to talk about with many other students in the group. You can do the skittles game to get them talking or use these interaction cards that I have developed.
  18. Try Solitude. It sounds backwards. We went away to be together not alone! For some students being alone for an hour without their phone or friends in a spot in the woods may help them to connect with God in a way that they never would with people around
  19. Student Sharing Time –some groups do this at campfire but no one hears what it being shared because of all the distractions. Take time at the start of one of your sessions or during the worship time for students to share what they are learning from the weekend.
  20. Arrange for Follow Up –life change happens I extended times away together. To help make change stick leaders need to hear what is going on in student’s hearts and minds. After these conversations take place leaders can help a student build on this experience when the return from the retreat.

These were mine. Mostly…

They aren’t original to me I am sure. I probably got some of them from good people like you. Please leave a comment for others about your favorite retreat ideas!

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Ron Powell


Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email ron.powell@vanguardcollege.com