Youth worker job descriptions include very little of the actual job requirements. They leave out the endless meetings, one-on-ones, clean-up duty, parent interactions, and about a hundred other details that make up the youth worker’s job. Job descriptions generally focus on weekly youth groups, staff meetings, a mission trip or two, and maybe some preaching responsibilities. Most job descriptions leave out the requirement to plan, lead and evaluate youth retreats throughout the year.
In comparison to many of the other tasks with which youth workers are involved, the requirement to plan retreats is a simple, straightforward affair. Planning a retreat simply needs a few reservations, some activities, catering choices, chaperones and a few other organizational details. Planning a retreat requires no mediation, no middle-of-the-night emergencies and probably not committee approvals. Piece of cake.
Although planning your next youth retreat is not a complex, high-stress affair, it still can be a time-consuming endeavor. Whenever you throw a group of people together for an extended period of time—and add in cooking and sleeping requirements—things get complicated quickly. To be honest, your time probably is better spent in other places.
Here’s a few tips and tricks to make the next retreat easier and quicker to plan:
1) Take Care of the Big 3 First: lodging, food and transportation.
Once you have these three things settled, everything else is small potatoes. Lodging and transportation should consist of a few quick phone calls to make reservations. Food can be trickier to plan, as many youth workers choose to do the cooking themselves to save money. For everyone doing his or her own cooking, remember simple is better. Cooking in large quantities is difficult to do well, so unless you have a gourmet chef as a chaperone, you’re probably better off with cereal and bagels for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch. (Bear in mind your students who have food allergies/sensitivities! Much of the food that works well for groups does not work well for some, especially those with gluten and dairy issues.) The work of making spaghetti or lasagna for supper likely will be a waste, so opt for an easier choice. Put your energy into other areas.
2) Plan a few activities well.
Many youth workers new to retreat planning think they need to schedule every minute of the day with exciting and meaningful activities, but much of the value in a retreat comes from the off moments. Retreats are valuable because of the time they provide to get to know each other. Planned activities are actually a secondary focus. Understanding this reality actually helps you plan a better retreat while taking less time to do so. Instead of hunting for activities and lessons that can work with your theme, choose a few. Plan them well. Then allow space in the day and at night for people to play games and hang out together. Bring along group games, snacks and beverages to encourage people to sit around together.
3) Recruit extra chaperones, and early in the process.
Anyone working in youth ministry knows this step is easier said than done. Finding volunteers who will give up a weekend of their time is a challenge, and finding chaperones often is one of the hardest steps in planning. It doesn’t need to be. Rather, it doesn’t need to be so hard. As soon as you know the date for the retreat, begin recruiting. Every person helping with the youth, and every parent in the youth group, should be made aware of the need for chaperones immediately. All staff, elders and deacons should be aware of the need and should be asked personally if he or she is available for that weekend. If the retreat is for junior highers, consider asking the high school group to help with some of the chaperoning. Don’t settle for too few. During the retreat, you will have a bunch of tasks to attend to; you will not be able to run the retreat well if you constantly are taking on the role of chaperone yourself. Gather enough volunteers to help with the event so you are able to step back from that role. Let people know if you are short of volunteers, and do it in advance. It is helpful to have a deadline to call off the retreat. Example: If you don’t have enough volunteers three weeks before the retreat, it doesn’t happen. This seems harsh, but it will make the church understand the role it needs to play in the education of its youth.
With these three areas covered, your retreat should go smoothly. There are other details that will come up and need to be addressed, but taking care of those listed above will help guarantee everyone on the retreat has an enjoyable and safe time together. Remember: Planning a retreat does not need to be stressful. Save the stress for something more important.
Lanet Hane has served in a variety of ministry settings, including several years in church-based youth ministry, summer camping ministry, volunteer management and higher education. Campsite consultations and managing TheCampWhisperer.com are side hobbies for her as she currently works full-time at Green Lake Camp in Spicer, Minnesota. She is the author of Life Skills: A Guide to Change.