Retreat Preparation 101

The season of winter retreats has now come to a close for our youth ministry.  Well, actually we really shouldn’t say “retreat” for the guys because guys “don’t retreat.”   Regardless, every year we take two weekends in January to get away for a weekend.  The first weekend was a few weeks back for Sr. High and the other one was this past weekend for the Jr. High.  If you ever find yourself spending time with teenagers on a retreat, it would be good to have an idea what to expect.  So, in the interest of community service, I offer to you a few ideas for your preparation for youth retreats.

What to pack: Packing is a tricky thing.  On the one hand you want to have everything you need and on the other you want to leave things out that could be used against you.   Toothpaste is an important item to have, but if you aren’t careful it can end up being used against you.  One item that was a favorite in years past was the Axe body spray, since so many of them used it.  It is wise to have a small can available– just in case.

Endurance Training:  I have 4 children, so I am always being trained on how to operate without sleep.  I know that many people go into retreat thinking they are not going to get sleep.  I go into retreat looking forward to several solid hours of sleep.  It is important that for the weeks prior to retreat that you stay up until midnight, listen to loud music and eat junk food right up until bed time.  This will come in handy when the people in your cabin want to go to sleep but you are still dancing around the room.  This is just turning it around on them and it works beautifully.

Buy Snacks:  This is one of those areas that is important for the drive to and from camp.  I have found over the years that if you don’t have a case of water and some food in the van, you will be constantly bothered to stop because they are hungry.  Be prepared and have snacks for them to eat.  It makes them happy and lets you make better time on the road.  It also means that you will have snacks to eat until midnight with them in your cabin.

Arm Yourself:  When I say arm yourself I am not talking about a weapon.  Instead you need to arm yourself with scripture to deal with any situation that might come up.  It is especially important to know where the unwholesome talk verses are, just in case you need to use the sword (a.k.a. Word of God) to actually cut someone.  The truth is there are many questions that come up on retreat.  You don’t need to know all the answers.  You do need to be ready to at least have a conversation with one of the youth and point them in the right direction.

Learn New Dance Moves:  It can only help your cause and give you swag points.

Know Reality: As hard as it is to admit, we are not as young as they are.   I think they know this and exploit it.  Regardless, during the basketball tournament or the volleyball tournament, or any game, don’t go crazy and knock kids over.  I know you think you have something to prove and want to relive the glory years, but you don’t have a mullet anymore, so let it go.  Injuring a Jr. Higher in the basketball tournament just isn’t cool.

Go in with Open Eyes:  I have met many kids from other groups that were really awesome!  It is easy to get caught up in yourself or your group, but resist that and look for opportunities all around.  I have even had opportunities to pray with and encourage other youth workers.

Heart Preparation: Lastly, be prepared to have a deeper sense of what it means to be in youth ministry.  It is incredible to be with groups of teenagers as they worship God in one voice.  I love to hear them respond to God’s Word and then connect some of those things in their minds.  They can process so much depth and desire to be challenged to live for God. Every time I go on a retreat I walk away knowing why I serve in youth ministry.

Do you find significance in what you’re doing with your life? The truth is youth ministry is not for everyone.  I know that this is where God has me and it is an amazing place to spend my life.  I know some people who are deathly afraid of teenagers because of any number of misconceptions.  However, teenagers are not a type of plague to be avoided, they are valuable people who have the potential to live godly lives and do amazing things in this world.  Sure they sometimes do silly things, but that is what we are there for.  I don’t go on retreat because I want to spend a weekend away from my family.  I go on retreat because God uses it to impact the lives of teens so that they find significance in His ways, not their own.  If that means I give up two weekends a year to do these, then so be it. I am all in!

* And for those interested in what actually happened this year on retreat, I will be sharing a few of the topics in posts this week at some point.



  1. I have gotten a bit too old to do the playing, but I still love youth. They’re pretty considerate with my old bones, however. My best story from my youth ministry days was the night some boys brought handcuffs and handcuffed my (then future husband) to the bed. My husband was quite savvy for an old guy in his early 20s lol. I usually had the girls that didn’t want to stay up and try to sneak out. I did once have to sleep in front of the door in order to keep girls contained while boys were running around (their counselor having fallen asleep). ::Sigh:: Wouldn’t trade it for anything. My role is much less exciting now, but I still love the age group. Heart preparation is always first and foremost and a HUGE sense of humor. 🙂 Can’t wait to hear how it goes. Praying. Angie

    1. It is a lot of fun. I wrote this with a lot of sarcasm in it. My group is far more relaxed than some others I have been a part of. I have seen a lot of things, but never handcuffs. I won’t give them any ideas. We had a few guys try to sneak out a few years back. One of my leaders woke up and set them straight. I slept right through it.

  2. My life was forever changed due to wonderful people stepping out and loving the ones many forget about. I was “lost boy” Brian and Angie and the gray ghost always came for me …they never gave up and always loved me far beyond what i deserved. I now at 42 due all I can for the “lost kids’ in my area. Dave Woods you are a Jesus Giant and will never forget our times at Hillcrest… PREACH JESUS …USE WORDS IF YOU MUST…see a need fill a need. Always Jesus!

  3. You forgot to mention packing thick padding so the comments and sarcasm bounce off!

    Seriously though, we enjoyed the time with my daughter and her friends. Maybe it was small town Iowa, but the kids were always pretty respectful and easy to get along with.

    After prom her senior year, she wanted a coed sleepover at our house. We allowed it simply because we’d rather keep an eye on it than have her somewhere else. My husband did a 3 am walk through. The kids were all conked out, wedged in so tightly together that if anyone did something, they’d all know. It went well and we were glad to have them where we could watch over them.

    Enjoy your retreat. Remember to take a squirt bottle with water. It works with the cats – it does on teenagers too. Oh no wait – they’ll grab it and use it on you. Never mind says Rose Roseannadanna.


    1. The retreats are now over for the year, but I would never take a water bottle. The group I have is really a well behaved and respectful group. That is not always the case, so I am thankful for it.

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