Planning a Retreat (A Month By Month Guide)
One of the cornerstone activities of a Youth Group is a good, solid weekend retreat. You can host them in the Fall, Mid-Winter, Spring, and even in the Summer, but getting one off the ground can always be a bit tricky. Here are some tips and guidelines to help you as you prepare for your next retreat.
6-8 months out:
- Set a purpose – The beauty of retreats is the fellowship that takes place. Is your retreat to train up specific leaders or is to create space for bonding within your group? This will dictate the next step.
- Determine length – A leadership retreat doesn’t need to be a two-night event, but a whole-youth retreat can benefit from the two nights together.
- Pick a place – Contact a handful of retreat centers and compare prices. Sign a contract with a realistic number (the number of people you are expecting to attend). Find out what the retreat center’s policy is on meeting the contractual number. Book any extra activities.
- Publish the dates – Getting this information out to your people increases the chance they’ll attend.
- Decide on a theme – Talk to your student leadership about topics and ideas they’ll want to focus on during this retreat. Pick the scriptures and any games that you’ll want to play.
- Determine content – Will you have a guest speaker? Contact this person. Will you write your own small group lessons or purchase curriculum? If you’re going to have a guest worship leader, invite them now. Discuss rates with all guest speakers and leaders.
3 months out:
- Generate excitement – Put up a “coming soon” poster in your youth room, or drop blurbs in the church newsletter about the upcoming youth retreat.
- Start lining up chaperones – Talk to parents now and get them on board to stay overnight. Get approval from their students!
- Put together a transportation plan – Are you renting vans? Get those reserved. Need parents to drive their own cars? Talk to them now! Determine when you’ll be leaving the church and when you’ll return, along with any extra meals students may need to pay for on their own.
- Do the math Figure out how much it will cost each person for transportation, lodging and meals, tshirts, and any miscellaneous expenses like smores materials or game equipment. Are you going to charge less for adults?
2 months out:
- Contact a tshirt person – Get your tshirt design started once you have your theme and scripture picked out.
- Follow up with the retreat center – See if there are any extra forms that they require. Check the payment schedule and make sure your check requests are in order on your end.
- Put together a schedule – Get meal time information from the retreat center, along with any extra activity times, and plan out what the weekend will look like. How many worships will there be? When will there be free time?
- Gather forms – Make sure your medical releases are current and accurate. Create a registration form with necessary information on it. Put together a packing list so that information is handy for parents from the beginning.
6 weeks out:
- Open up Early Bird Registration – Charging $20 less for the first two weeks of registration will cause your registration to come in quickly. Make sure the dates are clearly published for the cut off!
- Follow up with chaperones – Make sure they’re registering, too.
- Reach out – Now is the time to text or call that student that has fallen off on their attendance or who has never attended a retreat before. Explain why they should go, tell them who is already registering, and let them know they have a few weeks to make up their mind if they need it.
4 weeks out:
- Close early bird registration – Advertise the new price in all publications and continue to promote the retreat.
- Start writing curriculum – Get outlines written for small groups and messages. If you are using a pre-written curriculum, make sure you have everything you need for it. Download it. read it.
- Get organized – Put all of the registration information into a spreadsheet so you can easily pull info like email addresses, payment history, and whether current medical release forms are on file.
- Stay Safe – Make sure all adults have background checks, are in line with driver policies at your church, and are Ministry Safe/Safe Sanctuaries/Safe Camp trained. This includes any guest speakers/worship leaders you may have.
2 weeks out:
- Confirm, confirm, confirm – Make sure the retreat center has everything they need from you. Confirm with transportation providers that everything is kosher. Confirm that the A/V plan is in place and all parties have everything they need.
- Make lists – Put together a shopping list for any supplies and a packing list for anything you’ll need to take with you.
- Close registration –. Give yourself enough time to put in your order for tshirts.
- Order t-shirts – Make sure to add 1-2 shirts to each size category for any late registrants or sizing mix ups.
1 week out:
- Pay up – Send final payments to retreat centers, guest speakers, guest worship leaders, transportation companies, etc.
- Get organized – Put all medical release forms in a binder, alphabetically. Make a copy to leave in the church office, along with an itenerary/schedule, any transportation information, and emergency contact info. Create small groups for participants.
- Communicate – Send out information to parents including a packing list, a schedule, emergency contact info, and any last minute information. Email your small group curriculum and small group lists to group leaders.
- Go shopping – Gather everything you need for the retreat according to the lists you made the week before.
At the end of the day, remember to KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. The purpose of a retreat is to literally get away. When we lead a retreat, we’re leading students away from the chaos that is their every day lives and bringing them into a place where they can rest and be present with one another and with God. Allow for free time, give them space to be and to talk, and keep it simple. There’s already enough out there competing for their attention. We don’t need to add to the noise.