How to Make the Most of Your Weekend Retreat

Weekend Retreat

Discover practical strategies to maximize your weekend retreat’s impact on youth ministry. Learn to equip volunteers, enhance relationships, and create memorable experiences to foster spiritual growth and community.

You’ve got an evening, one full day, and maybe a Sunday morning. . .

How in the world do you make a couple handful of hours count for your leaders and students?

Take it one step further­–how do you make it worth the financial investment to their parents and caregivers?

Well, you have to be strategic, but if you take the time, effort and energy to make weekend retreat count, it may become one of your most important events of the year.

At its core, what is weekend retreat?

Winter camp. DNOW. Fall retreat. Convention. Conference.

Depending on your context, denomination, or church it may have a unique name, but let’s think about weekend retreat as:

An unforgettable experience designed to strengthen relationships and catalyze spiritual development.

Now that’s a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time, but the advantage of weekend retreat is that you have concentrated time­–that if used well–can yield significant effects over the long haul.

So, how do you deliver on this kind of event? Here are 3 ways to prepare for this kind of weekend retreat and then 3 ways an event like this can shape the culture of your youth ministry.

3 Ways To Plan For the best Weekend Retreat Ever

1. Equip your volunteers.

We talk about this a lot at Orange, but when it comes to events like retreats and camps, there may be no better time to invest in the development of your volunteers.

Training can go a long way for both the event and for your volunteer culture.

I don’t often suggest a lot of in-person volunteer trainings, but it’s amazing how solid attendance can be before SGLs are about to be locked in a cabin or house with 10-12 teenagers whose lives depend on them.

So since you have a captive audience, you might as well capitalize on the opportunity.

But what should the training cover?

Of course, it’s important to cover logistics and high-level details of your event. However, most of that information can be sent in an email or communicated by SGL coaches (if you don’t know what a coach is, check out this blog post.)

What if you took the hour or two that you have for training and chose to cast vision around the importance of time spent together and tactical advice for leading meaningful conversations?

Your training can become an environment to equip leaders for the crucial conversations that come up at a retreat (3 Hurts, next steps, relational breakthrough) but it can also be a place to cast vision for the importance of the long-game you’re asking SGLs to play in your ministry.

  • Communicate the number of hours they will have at retreat with their group and compare it to the number of hours they have in a typical school year of SG time.
  • Thank them for giving their weekend to faith and future of the next generation and cast vision for where this Weekend Retreat fits into the overall strategy of small groups and relational discipleship.
  • Equip them with practical tools for navigating difficult conversations, creating psychological safety within their group, and connecting with their few.
  • Set the tone spiritually for them by creating space for silence, prayer, and worship (take some time during your training to practice a spiritual habit or two and remind leaders that they set the tone for student’s own practices during the weekend and beyond). 

Training can be so much more than information.

If you want to make the most of your Weekend Retreat, start by equipping your volunteers for the short-term win of Retreat and the long-game of youth ministry.

2. Make it all about relationships.

I’m going to suggest ONE thing as the primary focus of a successful Weekend Retreat: relationships!

No, the goal is not for Church Chads in your group to come home with as many phone numbers as possible. I’m talking about deepening and cultivating healthy, meaningful relationships in the context of your small groups and youth ministry.

This is why everything that makes it into your programming and schedule for the weekend should point to small groups being the priority.

  • Talks should be meant to set up great small-group conversations.
  • Free time, service projects, and activities should be group-centric, not just for individuals or curb appeal.
  • The schedule should give adequate time outside of the large group space for groups to hang-out, talk, share meals together, and bond.

Everything about your weekend retreat can be focused on groups. Even a stage game involving one person can be turned into a group prize for the winner! (Think snack basket for the group to the person who wins head, shoulders, knees, cup.)

When you make relationships the highlight, students and leaders will think highly of groups all year.

3. Make it memorable.

Ok, so this one isn’t all about premium production, excessive spending, and questionable fire code practices. You can make it memorable by building a retreat experience that younger students/kids look forward to and youth ministry alumni can’t forget.

Sure, big events have the potential to do this no matter what. Yet, I can tell you from experience that our weekend retreat event was the year’s most talked about event. In fact, my old church is still doing this event we started years ago, and students look forward to it every year.

The funny thing is, the first year or two we did it, students were highly skeptical. It was in-town, at the church, and just not what they were used to.

But, our team made sure that the event would be unforgettable for students.

We planned food drops at host homes. Invested blood, sweat, and tears into building prop for games and other programming. Our lead pastor spoke a session every year to show student how much they matter to the church. We made sure that every year there was at least one “wow” experience that students would never forget (we did a tethered hot air balloon ride one year. . .the unforgettable part to me was that we got every parent to sign the needed waiver).

Now, I know we all have different budgets, resources, and personal capacities to focus on a weekend retreat. So if you’re a volunteer youth worker or funding the ministry based on whatever is left from last year’s Harvest Party, please know we’re with you!

It doesn’t have to be extravagant or expensive. It has to be memorable.

What students and leaders will remember most is that their church took the time to do everything possible to show them they matter, are worth extra effort, and are known. Just find your way to do that and the memories will take care of themselves.

Best of all, it’s free!

Also, I figured I should mention the fact that this is why we made the Weekend Retreat product. It’s FREE. I’ll give you a second to pick your jaw up off the floor. Seriously though, it’s free and designed to give you almost everything you need to create an incredible weekend retreat for your students. Large group content, Small Group Leader guides, parent resources, a bumper video, planning documents, and more.

Plus, there is an optional Media Package you can purchase with all sorts of additional resources like session-specific bumpers, expanded parent resources, a late-night party plan, a social media plan plus images, and even a template for you to create your own recap video! We got you! So don’t feel like you have to do it all. Download Weekend Retreat today and focus on creating the memorable experiences only you can create.

Ok, so there are three ways to plan for the best weekend retreat ever.

There’s still a question begging our attention: Why?

What’s the point of all this work? Why would you consider adding or maintaining a retreat like this on your ministry calendar?

Impacts of Weekend Retreat

Let me quickly give you a few reasons why I think something like Weekend Retreat could make a difference in your ministry.

Some of the biggest wins that our youth ministry experienced out of retreat:

  • High leader engagement due to weekend schedule.
  • Low cost to students (parents/caregivers) because we utilized host homes.
  • Established trust with parents, building up to longer and farther away summer camp.
  • Created an opportunity for church families to open their homes.
  • Made the church campus more than just a come, sit, and leave space.
  • Catalyzed groups that were dormant or stale.
  • Solidified groups that were new (think 7th graders and Freshmen).
  • Allowed students to enjoy their city with their group (we did excursions in-town).
  • Gave the entire church staff a chance to serve the next generation.
  • Provided comfortable and safe spaces for real, authentic conversations.
  • Offered experiences groups would talk about for their entire time in youth ministry.
  • Gave students yet to be connected to our group a chance to see our ministry being more than a once a week gathering (on campus and around the city).
  • Helped students make positive memories connected to the local church.

These are just some of the incredible wins we would celebrate after our Weekend Retreat. Depending on your context, location, and format, I’m confident you could add many more.

You can make the most of a weekend retreat by strategically and intentionally giving it purpose and vision.

As a youth ministry leader, you know the power of relationships and the importance of focused time investing in those relationships in an environment like a retreat.

Weekend Retreat offers almost half a year’s worth of small group connections in just a couple of days.

You know that kind of time is worth the investment.

Weekend Retreat can be a formative milestone in the faith and future of the next generation.

So, how will you make the most of your Weekend Retreat?


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