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Rethinking Winter Retreat: Less is More

By Doug Franklin January 10, 2017

Without question winter retreats are a great place for ministry. But because our time is limited, it’s important to make the most of every minute we have with students. When we focus less on getting through the weekend and more on being intentional with students, we are likely to see more fruit come from the experience.

Here are a few reminders that less is more when it comes to intentionally leading this year’s retreat:

Less word-vomiting, More truth-repeating

Too often we try to fit too many spiritual principles into a weekend. We tell ourselves that this opportunity comes only once or twice a year, and we proceed to vomit anything and everything we want students to know. The reality is that students will get more out of one memorable and repeated idea than out of ten loosely connected insights. Pick one spiritual truth and devote the whole weekend to helping students internalize it.

Fewer games, More opportunities to debrief

Retreats are a fantastic place to play your best games, but giving students time to reflect will likely be more fruitful than the biggest Twister game in history. Students’ worlds move at lightning speed, and they don’t always have the time to process what they’re experiencing or the mentors to help them uncover what they’re learning. Create the right space and environment for times of meaningful reflection, and it will have a positive and lasting impact.

Less time in the large group, More time in small groups

Small groups discussing real issues can do more for students than an expensive speaker telling funny jokes. Speakers don’t changes lives, but change can occur when a mature believer chooses to invest in a younger believer by the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Facilitate small group discussions that will challenge students to think past the right answer and look for connections between a specific principle and their own life experience.

“Take an unplugged approach to your winter retreat. Students don’t need the noise of a movie or their iPod, but they do need conversation.”

Fewer movies, More conversations

Take an unplugged approach to your winter retreat. Students don’t need the noise of a movie or their iPod, but they do need conversation. By eliminating a few key distractions, you can encourage conversations between students and set up your adult leaders for relational success. Before you leave, communicate to your adult volunteers your hopes and expectations for their role on the retreat. Help them identify ways to deepen relationships with students, and challenge them to pursue more difficult and challenging conversations—even in the van.

Fewer late nights, More sleep

Late nights may seem like a great idea, but those energetic evenings turn into lifeless morning sessions where students are more likely to doze off than listen attentively. The truth is that students can’t learn when they’re tired. To be more intentional about reaching your students, consider adjusting your retreat schedule to make sleep a priority. It may not make you as popular among your students, but you’ll demonstrate what’s most important about their time spent on retreat.

As you head out on this year’s winter retreat, focus on a single truth to communicate to students. Create spaces and environments where great discussions and times of debriefing can happen. And don’t forget to prioritize conversations and, yes, even sleep. Intentionality means keeping the main thing the main thing, and the main thing is to see students grow and continue to bear fruit long after this year’s winter retreat.

About the Author

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners  who never leave their side. Doug grew up in…  Read More