Summer is over, students are back in school, and weekends are filled with football. Oh, how I love the fall.
Having been in my current role less than two years, I am still in the early stages of the “figuring out the culture of our group” learning curve. But one thing all of our students want to do is a fall retreat.
How do you decide whether or not a fall retreat is a good idea for your group?
To answer that question well, I believe you’ve got to take a step back and think about your overall programming strategy. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of what it looks like for us.
- What is the current spiritual “maturity” of our students? As the point person for student ministry in my church, I’m constantly observing and thinking and writing notes about our students. I also like to involve some key leaders in the conversation – parents, students, and volunteers, both formally and informally.
SIDENOTE: Be very strategic in who you invite to this table. I would try to be diverse in your sample, so you’re not getting the same answers from everyone; but I would not fill your team with contrarians. And make sure you communicate that you reserve the right (at your own risk) to not put their input into action.
- What are the current and most pressing needs of our students? It’s important to balance felt needs (what students want to talk about and experience) and perceived needs (what you and your team know students need to talk about and experience), but we spend time as a team talking and praying about the needs of our group and which ones need addressing most immediately.
SIDENOTE: Sometimes the need of your group is an experience, not a topic. Maybe your group needs a missions experience. Maybe your group needs to do something that includes their families. Maybe your group needs to do something mindlessly hilarious. Each of these things (and so many more) don’t seem spiritual, but as you’re building a safe environment for students, each of these things are part of the overall spiritual formation process in the lives of your group.
- What is the best way to address the needs? I love curriculum and advance planning, but when our team identifies an urgent need in our group, and I see our teaching plan doesn’t address it, I have two options: One, I bump the next series and write or buy something on the topic in need. Two, I add an event to my calendar that creates space to discuss the pressing need.
SIDENOTE: In our context, fall is the toughest time to plan additional events outside of our normal programming. Sports, band, theater, and the new semester of academics put a huge strain on students and their families. Make sure you don’t add to the strain by scheduling an event the weekend before midterms.
Now, back to the original question about whether or not a fall retreat is a good idea for your group?
The short answer is, “Yes, if your group needs it!”
This response may be elementary to many of you, but sometimes I need a reminder that what I do in student ministry isn’t accidental or locked onto “whatever we did last year.” The work we all do is to create space for God’s spirit to capture the hearts of the students God has entrusted to us for this season. Whatever it takes to see that happen, that’s what you need to do.
What do you think?
– Tim and Tasha Levert