I love a youth retreat.
In such a short amount of time away together we build relationships that sustain us as a group for a long long time! Hallmarks of a good youth retreat are going away into nature, eating meals together, playing lots of games with adults and youth side by side, tons of conversation, connecting with our faith and God in a new place and in a new way, and late nights under the stars.
Some things are timeless about a youth retreat, however, over my 15 years in youth ministry, some things are new! Here is my list of what never changes and what’s new:
- They still LOVE candy and Capri-Sun, so be prepared with lots of it.
- In a generation with higher rates of anxiety and depression, when they say they are anxious or worried, believe them. Don’t downplay that experience even if it’s not logical, be with them in that experience and see them so they feel less alone.
- Sneaking out is still a thing, but when they sneak, they are off to look at the stars and hang out with their friends… not the reason I remember sneaking out was when I was a teen.
- I was impressed to see how many of them took initiative and leadership to lead games and activities and fill their free time. I never heard, “I’m bored.”
- Youth are very comfortable sharing their gender and sexual identity with peers and adults and no one even bats an eye. It is common and normal to see a wide, beautiful spectrum.
- We are starting to see youth who have parents who practice “Gentle Parenting.” What is Gentle Parenting? Well, “Gentle Parenting is the approach to treat kids with respect and empathy, to offer choices rather than make demands, to give space to the child’s feelings and emotions and avoid losing your cool in frustrating situations.” On our retreat, I saw lots of youth practicing emotional awareness and self-regulation, and the group had a great sense of respect and empathy for each other. This was seen in a few ways on the retreat. A few youth went to bed when they were tired, not pushing themselves to stay up late because they felt they had to. Some youth took some quiet time for themselves to regulate and decompress; they did this by being alone in nature or listening to music. The group worked together well and was supportive of people’s space and boundaries. They said “no thank you” to group activities they did not want to participate in, setting that boundary for themselves, and they found other constructive ways to spend that time. They were great at including new youth in the group in beautiful ways.
- When we had an issue with the building arise, they were mature, responsible, and worked as a team in that mini-crisis. (Thanks pandemic, maybe?)
- They offer their opinions of what they like and do not like, and this is so helpful as the person who plans it all. I love having their input!
- And in exactly 24 hours, they made new friendships, deepened others, connected with their faith, laughed a whole lot, worked as a team, and created a core memory that will last years beyond the retreat. Again, all this in 24 hours; that is just amazing!
And you don’t have to believe me, I asked a few youth to share their experience in this blog. Here is what they said,
“I love the youth retreats because it’s a time where all the youth can come together and have fun while also working together to help out the community… and hopefully not get any bedbugs!” – Annabelle Morris, 10th grade
“On the retreat, I enjoyed learning about sex and relationships with friends, because we all got a few laughs in and learned some new things together. Also, it had been about 5 years since I had been on this camp’s grounds, so it was super interesting to see it now. It brought back many fond memories. Free time at night was a ton of fun. A few of us went out to the field with a blanket to look at the starry sky, and then we went to the campfire to tend it for another hour. We talked and laughed all night, slept a few hours, and woke up to news of bedbugs. An excellent retreat.” – Tucker Betz, 9th grade
“Youth Retreats are meaningful to me because of the memories we make. Each time we go on a retreat, no matter the people, everyone bonds and our connections become stronger as a youth group. The memories we make are always amazing despite a few things going wrong, like getting bedbugs. But even considering the worst part of youth retreats, we grow closer together, even over one day. Retreats grow a welcoming community while making memories and friends along the way.” – Emilia Gonzalez, 8th grade
So there you have it, why retreats do 1000000x more for youth ministry than 10 Sundays of youth group, the time away is magic in youth ministry.
Oh and maybe check for bedbugs before heading to bed, or maybe not… but that is a story for another day!
-Written by Brittany Porch
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