A group retreat can be a unique, spiritual experience. The retreat setting usually means getting away from everyday routines, phones, TV, the demands of daily life and having the opportunity for focused, uninterrupted time for communion with God and fellowship with each other. Whether you’ve never been on a group retreat, or you’ve just never been on an effective retreat, there are some essential things to remember in planning your time. The retreat by nature revolves around two elements: relational connection and a clear spiritual focus. The key is to find the balance. If the time is only about personal Bible study and prayer, it does little to grow the experience of the group as a whole; if it’s all about relationship building activities, it’s really nothing more than a shared vacation. So how do you balance the relational and spiritual focus for a group retreat? Here’s several practical suggestions to consider in planning your retreat time.
Develop a Specific Focus
Part of group leadership is knowing where the people in your group are and seeing the vision for where God wants to take you. Prayerfully determine one aspect of that vision God has given you and make it the focal point of your retreat. It may be something your group has been focusing on previously or it may be an area of emphasis for the next season in your group’s life. Here are a few tools to help you prepare:
- Pray about it…together. Sometimes we overlook the most obvious steps. Together, seeking God’s guidance will usually help you discern the direction as well as raise the group members’ awareness of the vision God has for your group.
- Ask the right questions. Where is God challenging/stretching you, as the leader? What are the hopes and desires of those in your group? What are they reading/interested in? What kind of heart, skills, and attitudes do they need to develop? Where is there pain and fear? What do they do for fun? What are some common idols you sense?
- Use a book/study such as Sacred Pathways, by Gary Thomas, which describes nine different temperaments and helps you more naturally express your relationship with God. By processing these things together as a group, you not only learn about yourself, but also about the others—a perspective that may open doors you would have never thought about on your own.
The specific focus you select in many ways becomes the theme for the entire retreat. Keep in mind that long after the retreat, people will not remember all things that are said or every song that was sung, but they will remember the focus and what God showed them during that time.
Be Intentional About Every Activity
Too often we tend to segment our activities as being either “spiritual”, or everything else. But the reality is: everything is spiritual! From the travel there, to the meals, to the time in study and prayer, to the time spent relaxing and fun—it’s all spiritual! There should be some times of deliberate exercise in the spiritual disciplines, but think through everything your group will do and be creative about how you can be intentionally about every opportunity. Here are just a few examples:
Natural fellowship occurs at meals and a generally relaxed atmosphere is almost always present. Don’t spend this time just in small talk though—prepare specific open ended questions ahead of time to ask around the meal table. What do you miss most about your childhood? What’s one of your biggest fears about the future? What was the most significant thing you learned about your spouse in the first three months of your marriage? What’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said about you? Who was your hero growing up, and how did you try to imitate him/her? What’s an emotion you often feel but don’t usually express?
Think of ice-breaker type questions that can go a bit deeper in having people share their lives. Remember that nourishment is still the purpose of the meal, but use this natural time to share your lives in a meaningful way.
There may also be a tangible way to tie your specific focus into the mealtime itself. If your focus is servanthood, take turns at meals having some act as waiters and waitresses serving the others in the group. Eat foods aligned with a specifics theme. A “monk meal” where everyone eats in silence may be useful going into or coming out of a time of reflection. Or maybe fasting for a meal, and instead sitting around the table and have a time of prayer and discussion may appropriate.
SPIRITUALLY FOCUSED ACTIVITIES
Avoid doing things too similar to what you do in your regular group time. This is supposed to be different and you have a chance to do some unique activities. For example, go prayer walking as a group (either with or without a specific prayer focus). Prepare a guided devotional to be done individually each day. Plan a time of worship using the gifts/passions of the group to make this a unique expression of your groups worship. Share communion together in a unique setting. Plan out an individual “Prayer Path” using designated stations and a prayer guide for each station. [ Click here to see sample guide ] Break up into sub-groups of 2 or three, maybe gender specific, to share/talk about a particular aspect of your retreat focus.
Keep in mind too not to overload your retreat time with too many group activities. Make sure you plan time for “personal retreat”—time to be alone, with some quiet and solitude, for personal reflection with God’s Word.
Having fun and time to relax is equally important. Make sure to include free-time as well as some group activities you can share in. Examples of group activities might be to play the Baby Picture Game. Before the retreat, contact relatives of those going to the retreat and arrange to have them give you a baby picture. Then at the retreat, show all the pictures and try to guess who is who.
Or have a talent show—have everyone share any kind of talent. You may learn a lot and be surprised by people’s creativity and gifts. Bring along other group games and make sure you include time to just enjoy each other’s company!
Think of creative ways for people to share during appropriate times. A tool like Soularium, from Campus Crusade, uses pictures to connect with our emotions and experiences and enable you to engage in spiritual conversation on a deep level. (Click here for more about Soularium.)
These are just a few suggestions, but a retreat should be a reflection of your group’s personality and where God is growing you. Have you been on an effective group retreat? What ideas would you recommend to make it a unique, spiritual experience? LEAVE A REPLY