Aaahhh, the glorious youth retreat. No matter what season, these weekends can be some of the biggest momentum-gainers (and, simultaneously, the biggest time suckers) in Student Ministry.

No matter which way you slice it, retreats are a staple of student ministry because of the space they give us to connect with students. They say that one three-day retreat can gain leaders and students the same relational ground as 5-7 months of weekly small group meetings! Here are some things that will take our next retreats to the next level.

Next Level Administration

Utilize automated signups

If you’re still using paper registrations (and therefore it’s likely you’re entering data and processing payments by hand), you’ve got to re-evaluate your tactics! As a ministry leader, your time is so much better spent constructing effective programming then data entry. Invest in a good event registration software and take your retreat to the next level! We use ‘Planning Center Registrations’ – with this software people can sign up and pay online, we can send balance reminders in one click, and mostly everything for registration is hands-off and automated. You save time on admin work and get to invest more time in crafting your message – a win-win!

Build in ‘price stepping’

Are you tired of putting your plans in a holding pattern because students don’t sign up until the last minute? Price stepping is a great way to get people to sign up (and you get more accurate numbers) ahead of time. In a nutshell, price stepping increases the cost as the retreat gets closer. The earlier a student signs up, the less they pay to participate in the retreat! Parents will love the opportunity to pay less for a retreat, and you will love having a more accurate headcount way in advance.

 Get visual

No matter how many hours you put into typing out the retreat information and details, few students enjoy reading a sheet full of text! Take the number of people who actually read the details to the next level by creating compelling graphics that communicate the most important information. Cost, dates, how to register, packing list, and more can all be wrapped up in a neat visual and then posted to the social network of your ministry’s choice. Students are WAY more likely to read the information when it shows up in their snapchat story in a visually compelling way.

Next Level Volunteers

Get your team on the same page

Before your retreat, get leaders together to talk about the ‘why’ (in other words, the end goal of why we’re giving up our weekend to sleep in a room that smells like B.O. and Fritos), the ‘how’ (how the retreat structure helps us achieve that end goal), and the ‘what’ (what the leadership expectations are within that structure). These common expectations will help keep your team on the same page as they work together and with students throughout the weekend.

Invest in your team

Your volunteers on retreat have given a weekend away from their families, friends, and ‘honey-do lists’ in order to deprive themselves of sleep and hang out with teenagers. If you want to take your volunteers to the next level, you’ve got to take care of them. Retreat care packages, surprise coffee that you bring to their cabin at the wake-up call (you’re rarely more than 15 minutes from a place to get coffee), verbal encouragement, designated ‘time off’ on Saturday afternoon, a devotional during the leader meeting, and more. A well-loved volunteer will well-love students. 

Leverage opportunities to form team identity

Whether you have a group of parent chaperones or seven year student ministry veterans, it is NEVER a bad idea to create space for a team identity to form. Team identity means that there is a sense of community among volunteers, and it can be argued that a sense of community among volunteers is one of the most effective recruitment tools in the book. Leverage leader meetings to include something fun, have a ‘leader only’ time each day, create staff t-shirts, play games, overcome a challenge, etc. Yes we’re here for students, but leveraging small opportunities for your team each day will pay off as you recruit in the future!

Next Level Ministry Movement

Invite Influencers

Moving your ministry forward takes people on board with your mission, vision, and strategy. What better way to do just that than an intensive weekend on a retreat! Move your ministry to the next level by inviting key influencers (people that others listen to and/or follow) in the church to join you for the weekend. When these ‘key influencers’ return, they’ll tell stories from the retreat…and others will listen and catch the vision!

Leverage Social Media

As you depart on a retreat, you take with you a parent’s whole world (their student). That said; guess who is WAY more likely to be watching your ministry’s social media that weekend? Parents. Post videos and pictures that give parents a glimpse into their student’s life that weekend. Often, parents will ‘share’ these posts – giving you free publicity! Move your ministry to the next level by giving parents ‘share-worthy’ posts of their student.

Tell the Story

If you’ve been in student ministry for any length of time, you know that God uses these weekends to change students’ lives. After you get back, make sure you tell the story of what God did that weekend through videos, pictures, testimonies, and more. Share these stories with the congregation and on your media pages! When your congregation hears the stories of lives that were changed at winter camp, guess whose support you have the next time Winter Camp comes around? Move your ministry to the next level by telling the story of God’s redemptive work!

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About The Author

JoshSchack copy

Josh is the student ministry pastor at First Christian Church in Santa Maria, California. He has worked in youth ministry for seven years and has a passion for equipping the next generation of kingdom leaders. Follow him on Twitter @joshschack.