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The Secret Sauce of an Extraordinary Retreat

One of my favorite things to do is speak to middle school and high school students.

Over the years of being privileged to do this at weekend retreats, I’ve learned that I need to keep an open mind about what to expect. Without naming names, there have been some major letdowns in how the experience went or in how I was treated.

Not this time.

Why yes, that is a load of duct tape wrapped around me during one of the breakout sessions.

My friend Austin McCann reached out and invited me to be his keynote speaker for his ministry’s annual winter getaway. It was nothing short of a refreshing undertaking, primarily due to Austin’s competent planning and implementation.

While God can certainly work wonders in chaotic situations, a good strategy more often than not allows everyone to more freely partner with Him.

So what’s the secret sauce of an extraordinary retreat?

It’s being Jesus-centered, of course.

Logistically, though, here are 12 things Austin did right:

  • He booked a speaker. Obviously, that was my role. It freed Austin up to pastor and lead the event without also having to juggle teaching.
  • He wasn’t the first person to arrive. I came a couple hours early to settle in and encountered the band and production team who were already practicing. Austin arrived about ten minutes before the students did, which indicated a great trust in and partnership with his volunteer leaders.
  • He gave me freedom, but with limitations. Austin and I collaborated on a biblical theme, and he then allowed me to speak from my heart. There was also a schedule for me to stay within, even though he gave me some slack in stretching beyond it as needed. I was appropriately held accountable to my time – including when he wanted me on site before each session.
  • worshipHe gave every volunteer something to do. It really was a great 1 Corinthians 12 example of the Body of Christ in action, whether it was the pair of leaders accounting for all the student medications and release forms, or the guy who bridged any logistical gaps between the stage and the a/v area.
  • He held a handful of leader’s briefings. Prior to the first session, all the adults got together to pray for the weekend and go over any last minute details. It was 15 minutes well spent. They continued this pattern at meal times, too, sitting together while the students ate as peers.
  • He invited a student to pray before each teaching time. Different high school and middle school kids came up and invited God to speak into whatever was about to happen. There was also a prayer effort happening back home.
  • He made students keep their handbooks in the main room. Had they taken them out, the handbooks would likely have been lost. Great catch ahead of time. The students were later allowed to bring them home after the session.
  • leadersHe ensured that different people rotated in. An adult led worship the first night, but then a student took it over the remaining sessions. There was a different student operating my media in the back of the room each session. It communicated ownership and participation across the board.
  • He let the kids be kids. Aside from the spiritual anchors in the schedule, there were several options and free time for organized and unorganized games, movies and more. Some students ended up forming new friendships by the fireplace, while others furthered pre-existing ones over 3-on-3 basketball. And… yeah… he had a game that involved putting crickets in your mouth and spitting them out for distance. It was a student retreat after all, and laughter paves the way for an open spirit and great memories.
  • drinksHe provided leaders-only refreshments. A specific cooler was set aside for all the adults to grab snacks and beverages as needed. I know I felt encouraged by the extra consideration, and presume the other adults did, too.
  • He gave me my own space. While I was contracted to speak, I personally enjoy hanging out with the students as they feel open to it. I was given my own area to sleep in on my own, which in turn inspired me to spend my recreational time with the students.
  • He paid me something honorable. My personal policy is I don’t ask for a fixed amount to speak but entrust the organization I’m serving to pay what they can reasonably afford for my time. I felt this in what I was given for the weekend… and he gave me the check up front so I didn’t have to ask for it.

Granted, no retreat is ever perfect.

If I could have changed anything about this one, I may have had a larger screen for video projection or encouraged all the adult leaders to sit with their students during teaching times to help with the room dynamics. Then again, I’m really reaching here… what we did do seemed to work – God powerfully moved among the students, perhaps because of the toned-down opportunity this environment and strategy provided.

I could go on, but would instead like to hear from you.

What’s been your experience in what makes a retreat or camp work well?

Thank you for loving students!

– Tony / @tonymyles

One thought on “The Secret Sauce of an Extraordinary Retreat

  1. Thanks for the kind words Tony! It was a blast having you on this retreat. God did some cool things that weekend and it was a privilege having you there speaking to our students.

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The Secret Sauce of an Extraordinary ...

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