I was asked about a month or so ago if I could write a blog on how to pull off an awesome retreat weekend. I know that for many of us put on Disciple Now weekends, Middle School or High School retreats throughout the year. If we were to break down the DNA of those weekends, what would be the purpose or goals of those weekends? The goal of those weekends should always be to accomplish one of these two things, evangelize to your students or spiritually grow your students. Outside of these two those weekends, you plan Disciple Now, or other retreats should not be used for anything else. I have written down five things that I consider vital to pulling off a life-changing retreat.
Plan out your theme and goal for the weekend
Have you ever taken a personal retreat day? I try to make one regularly for my spiritual walk, but once a year I take a day to plan out our next Disciple Now or retreat weekend. Our church is part of a network where about 12 churches come together to help put together one of the most powerful weekends of the year. Around 700 teenagers in our area come out to our event.
Over the last five Disciple Now weekends I have had the privilege to plan out the theme, speaker, and band. But, one of the most important things about the weekend and our planning has to be the theme for the weekend. Why? Because we need to understand the goal or what we seek the outcome to be for our students.
In March of this year, we had an amazing weekend that centered around the theme of rising. The goal for the weekend was twofold. First, we wanted to challenge those who were non-Christians to rise and to have a relationship with Christ. Secondly, we wanted to challenge our students to rise and take their place in their schools, teams, and their church to be missionaries for Christ.
Once you plan a date for your retreat weekend, begin to plan out the theme and the goals for the weekend. Personally, I have found it fruitful to go on a spiritual retreat to plan out the weekend. But, the most important thing for your ministry is to pray over the goals of the weekend to be accomplished.
Choose your Speaker and band wisely
There are many amazing speakers and bands within our nation, but I would recommend you talk to the band and the speaker before they arrive. I have put together many retreat weekends over the last 15 years, but I have experienced failures in reaching the goals and purpose of the weekend because of not choosing the right speaker or band.
I have gotten to know some amazing speakers because I have called them to hear their heart for ministry to students, but also Student Pastors. I recommend booking your speaker and band a year out. I begin calling different speakers a year out to hear their heart and share the vision for the weekend. I have had some say they could not do it because they wanted to promote their new book, but I have had the majority say I am thinking the same thing and they write their sermons around the theme for the weekend.
When it comes to the band you choose to lead worship; I love bringing in college students because I want them to invest in my students throughout the weekend. Trust me, I want the best band I can get, and I have seen God use worship bands from local colleges mightily in our Student Ministry to disciple students. But, whoever you choose make sure they line up with your theme and goals.
Write a curriculum strategically to align with the speaker
I may be one of those weirdos out there who loves writing his curriculum for events, but I want to personally have my curriculum line up with the speaker’s messages, passages, and our theme for the weekend. I devote a month every fall to writing out our curriculum for retreat weekends. I have found that writing the curriculum allows our students stay focused on the sermon that they just heard. Once you have heard from the speaker and knew the passages and direction for each sermon, then begin to write out the curriculum. I would recommend just praying through the curriculum and use your goals to help guide the small group time in your curriculum.
Promote with videos
I begin promoting three months out with different videos I make for the retreat weekend. If you are creative and have video skills, then use them to help market your retreat weekend. Personally, I enjoy video making and creating funny videos to grab our students attention. If you have the privilege or chance to share it in schools, then show different videos to help promote your retreat locally. We have students get excited and sign up without their churches because they want to be part of something God is speaking into their lives from the videos. Do not be afraid to be creative.
Be prepared for decisions to be made
The last thing I would tell you is to be prepared for decisions. We see decisions being made at our events and we plan what to do ahead of time. For example, we have counselors set up for students to talk with one break or at the end of the service. When I say prepared, I am meaning have counselors ready to receive students, but also have a place where people can have conversations privately about how God is speaking to them. It is important to also have a system in place for following up with students. Whenever we see students make a decision at one of our retreats, we make sure they are counseled, but also feel out a card about the decision they have made. We do not want to have our students leave a powerful weekend and not have someone follow up with them post the event. The most significant advice I can share with you is that you plan for decisions and have a follow-up plan.