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Retreat Planning – Why Bother

At the last NYWC in San Diego, myself and Nate Rice and Matt McGill hosted a panel discussion entitled “Retreat Planning 101” and in it, we discussed the what, when, where, how and such of planning your own retreat verses just using the already done program of a retreat center who runs their own camps and subcontracts out spaces to groups.

We decided to do a brief overview and then we selected on person from the audience who had a retreat to plan and we used him as a guinea pig and tried to apply the basic retreat planning process to his one retreat.  That gave us an immediate way to make it practical and a fun way to help someone out.

But before we dug in, we started asking the basic question:  “Why bother?”  I mean really, think about it.  No one has extra time or money these days and planning your own retreat will require both.  Volunteers will have to take time off work, families will have to find room in their budget for the retreat expenses, the work load of the one(s) planning the retreat just went sky high, and the list could go on.  If you were trying to make your life easier or not put pressure on the budget of any family, then you would surely NOT plan a retreat at all.  So again, “Why bother?” Are retreats stills worth it?

I asked myself this question again this week as I’m planning a retreat with our students this weekend.  It’s our annual fall retreat and the guys are going to the desert about an hour east of us and the girls are going to the beach at Carlsbad about an hour north of us.  But while both trips have promising experiences laid out, both trips have also already proven to be a lot of work and a financial hardship for families and even my own church budget. We’re not planning a $300 weekend, but still… everything ads up when I’m calling students and writing on Facebook walls and trying to convince all kinds of people that it will be worth the sacrifice of time and money, I find myself again wondering… am I just trying to convince myself it will be awesome?  Maybe the retreat model is dead for a season and I should quit planning stuff like this.

So for what it’s worth, here’s 3 reasons I think planning a retreat is worth it.  Despite the fact that my week is harder than normal and my weekend waaaay busier, here’s why I would still do it again:

GET AWAY & GET OUT OF TOWN FACTOR.  There is no changing it.  When you get away, the mindset is different.  There’s anticipation in the air.  Students listen different. Adults engage different.  I could paint the whole building every weekend and change decor into some new theme, and it still wouldn’t compete with the power of a new environment off our church campus.  When ever we get out of the normal space and into a new one, God meets us there.  Maybe he gets bored just like we do with monotony. Retreats break that up.  Retreats are powerful ethos changers.

BONDING.  There is nothing that can promote bonding like a shared experience.  Go on a road trip.  Build a bonfire.  Have something break and something go ridiculously wrong.  All of it adds up to a memory that again, will always trump whatever stuff happens in our church on Sunday. Getting away creates a community in ways that staying at home simply can’t compete with.  It’s true of family vacations. It’s true of student retreats too.

LIFE CHANGE.  I know it’s cliche to think that when we get away, people connect with God. This truth has gotten a bad rap actually because many times the results are hyped up and short lived.  But the flip side of this coin outweighs this possibility every time.  The fact of the matter is when we take a risk and pour into one another and God like we do when we go on retreats, God does great things.  Sure, you could argue that if we did that each time we met at home, God would do that there too.  It is true God is not spatially impaired.  But you’d also be arguing against reality as well.  The truth is normal is normal.  If you want the abnormal to occur, you have to take a risk and get abnormal.  Retreats set up amazing opportunities where God constantly and consistently works in the lives of those who join God in the abnormal experiences a weekend or weeklong retreat lends itself too.

So go ahead, work hard, pull out your hair, stress over the money, beg spoiled students to go with you, take a risk, trust God, and remind yourself that it’s all worth it.  Every minute and every penny.  Retreats are a great investment of both.  Give it 2 weeks.  It will all be worth it.  Give it 2 years and it will definitely prove to be worth it.

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Brian Berry is a proven veteran of student ministry. He serves as the generation ministries pastor at Journey Community Church near San Diego, California, where he works directly with the high school ministry and oversees a staff that is responsible for infants through teens. Brian is also a frequent blogger, writes and teaches for youth workers, and is the author of both As for Me and My Crazy House and Criticism Bites. He speaks at various conferences, camps, and retreats for a variety of audiences. He is married to Shannon, and they have five kids.