More than anyone, youth group leaders know the value of teaching crucial life lessons. Important as it is, the task can be difficult when meetings are brief and youth are distracted from a day of class. A youth retreat, on the other hand, gives organizers a focused and open atmosphere to communicate with their group. With games and activities as a medium, children are apt to listen and discuss lessons – ones that they’ll remember long after the retreat has passed.
Whether your retreat is for an afternoon or an entire week, it’s important to set your goals appropriately. Think about what messages you’d like to get across. Organizers often accomplish this by setting a theme for the event: A phrase or topic that summarizes the purpose of the retreat.
To select a theme, first consider the key topics you’d like to teach and discuss. For a teenage youth group, consider issues like bullying and gossip, peer pressure or self-image and self-esteem. For broader age-ranges, consider more universal ideas like team building, fitness, family, or global awareness.
To choose a name for the retreat, focus on the positive message: That which overcomes the problem. For example, if the topic is anti-bullying, call it a retreat for “kindness,” “respect,” or “courage.” Your event will feel more decisive and positive to fellow organizers and participants. For Christian youth groups, consider using scriptures as a basis for the theme and activities. (Deuteronomy 10:18 relates well to an anti-bullying theme.)
Once you’ve narrowed it down, select activities, games, and discussion points that revolve around the topic. You may also want to invite a speaker or special guest, like a band or magician. Lessons are important, but it’s a good idea to balance them with activities that keep participants engaged. Too many lectures could lose their interest. A strategy youth retreat organizers have found successful is to begin with all games and gradually add messages between activities. Children will be more active and aware when it comes time for important topics.
If your retreat is booked at a large outdoor space like a camp or park, consider a group-based scavenger hunt. This can be a great way to break down social barriers, as children must work together to compete. If your theme relates to health and fitness, consider more active games like a relay race or obstacle course – just be sure to keep competition friendly. Sports like soccer, kickball or frisbee are also appropriate. For winter retreats, consider skiing or snowboarding as the main event.
As activities wind down, the mellow mood is ripe for a group discussion. Pass a “talking stick” around the campfire and encourage individuals to share stories about the topic. The open and supportive atmosphere can lend itself to rich and moving conversation – It can be one of the most important takeaways from the retreat. As the event concludes, feel satisfied knowing you’ve brought your group closer together and instilled an important message.