The author shares four ways that their ministry creates a powerful fall retreat experience for Nav students from Texas A&M.
We live in the busiest time in one of the busiest countries on earth. As a campus minister with The Navigators at Texas A&M University, I believe that I serve on one of the busiest campuses as well (as you probably do on your campus!). Our students have the choice of over 1000 student organizations alone! This is why our Fall Retreat is such an important tool in our ministry belt.
We want students in a deep, abiding relationship with Jesus, but it’s challenging for them to see that unless they have a bit of breathing room, away from the clutter. Our Fall Retreat is an excellent way for us to help students get off the grind and into God’s mind*. As a student, I gave my life to making disciples at a retreat, so I know firsthand the powerful ministry that can come from these experiences.
Here’s a few principles that we’ve used in planning our fall retreats.
1. Slow Down
Create some margin in your retreat schedule. Many retreat coordinators schedule so many activities, workshops, keynotes, etc. that there’s no time for connections between people. Dawson Trotman once said, “The enemy of the best is not the poor, but the good.” Sometimes we need to cut good activities in order to create room for better ones. We save our heavy content for our spring retreat, and focus on relationships during the fall. We provide around 5 or 6 hours of free time during our weekend retreat for students to just hang out and spend time together. We also have a themed dance party every year after the Saturday night session so that students have another chance to rub elbows.
I’ve seen that the drive to the retreat and back, and the little conversations on the soccer field have often been more fruitful than the content of the workshops/sessions. My wife was able to lead an international student to Christ on the way home from the retreat because we intentionally scheduled lunch for the drive back, and not at the campground. Another student of ours brought two non-Christian friends, and because there was so much time for fellowship, they were both able to have spiritual conversations with about five of our student leaders each!
2. Share the Experience
Invite other ministries within your network from multiple campuses if they’re close to yours. It can be fun for other campuses to come to a big event that’s already put together for them, so they don’t have to recreate their own version. It gives students the same experience and energy as an event at the “big” schools. Also, it helps your students see that this Kingdom work extends beyond the border of their own campus.
3. Sleep In
Don’t force students to wake up early on a weekend where they are having so much fun. Just schedule your Quiet Times later in the morning, and give them ample time to meet with the King. We even add a page to our weekend brochure that explains how to spend time with God and gives some suggested verses.
4. Students Serving Students
Most importantly, the retreat is only as good as the student leaders make it. The retreat should serve as the glue for the relationships they’ve been forming back on campus. The staff can put on an amazing program, but the student leaders must step up and serve their friends well (see point 1). As ministry leaders, it is our job to equip and empower them to do this.
The moments that changed my life at my first retreat were the conversations with older students, not just the main sessions or workshops. I have seen students teach the workshop someone else led them through to a student that they were discipling during free time! Our student leaders often can be seen praying with students into the late hours of the night after sessions, or turning their Frisbee games into opportunities to empower and encourage young, shy freshmen.
Misti Zamora, a grad student in our ministry, wrote an excellent training piece for our leaders on this very topic, which you can download HERE.
I hope this helps you think through your retreats, and how you can best serve your students by providing a potentially life-changing opportunity to meet with God and connect with others.
*I apologize for my terrible rhyme