With the fall semester just beginning for many of us, you may not be thinking about trips just yet. Or perhaps you have a fall retreat coming up and you’re starting to prepare all the information and building out schedules and details. Regardless of where you are in the planning stages, it is important to think critically about where you are going and why you are going there.
Those of us who serve in student ministry know how important trips and retreats are in the lives of students. These moments help our students grow and mature in their faith as they are able to hyper-focus on spiritual disciplines, rhythms, formation, and transformation in a condensed but intentional time. Because of that reality, we must be intentional in choosing the locations for these trips so as to best care for and minister to our students. Today I’m sharing some practical things to look for in the places you plan to take your students so they can have the best possible experience.
Find a place that matches and supports your vision.
Whenever our ministry is assessing where we will be taking our students we look to see if it supports our vision of disciple-making. That means we want a place that has longer small group times, opportunities for service, challenging and deep messages, as well as fun and engaging activities. What you want for your group may not be what we look for, but what matters is that your values and vision are complimented and supported through the elements offered by the camp or retreat center.
Choose a location that is cost-effective.
We all serve in areas that can vary widely from a socioeconomic perspective. This means what some students can afford in one area is not necessarily the same in another. That doesn’t mean we need to sacrifice on the quality or benefits of the retreat site, but instead look for one that is affordable and cost-effective.
The truth is students don’t need all the bells and whistles to make camp enjoyable and memorable. They instead need one they can attend, where they can build meaningful relationships, have fun doing a variety of things, and make lasting memories. So think about where you are going, if it is financially accessible for your students, and how you may be able to assist those who cannot afford to go.
Pick a place that has good activities.
Activities perhaps aren’t always the focus when we choose a retreat destination, but should receive more attention. I am not saying they should be the determining factor in where you take your group, but they should play a role in your decision.
I have been to many beautiful and cost-effective camps that had very few on-site activities. This was always a little disappointing to our groups; they hoped camps would offer different aspects than normal youth group gatherings. It is also important to make sure that the activities are age appropriate. It is possible to have an amazing camp and facilities but the activities may be designed more for elementary day camps and not youth groups. So consider where you are going, and what activities they offer in which your group will enjoy participating.
Find an experience your students will remember.
What makes camps and retreats memorable? The camp we take our students to in the winter isn’t the most beautiful or top of the line. But for our group, it doesn’t need to be. They offer all the things we are looking for: quality speakers, intentional small group times, fantastic activities, and really good meals. What makes this retreat so memorable for our students are the sessions, small group time, the activities like tubing runs (including one onto a lake and nighttime), the camp director who engages with each student, and the team-building competitions.
Whatever makes a trip memorable for your students, find a place that will compliment those things. But always use discernment with this as well. Just because a student remembers a joke the speaker told, or the pranks they pulled, or a random camp romance, doesn’t mean you should choose that location again. Find memories that are valuable, meaningful, formational, and contribute ultimately toward your vision for your students.
Choose a place that will best help your students grow.
What is the purpose of going to a retreat or camp for your group? Whenever I take students on a trip, I don’t want them to just go on a vacation. I truly want it to be spiritually formational for them and to see them wrestle and grow in their relationships with Jesus. I know there are many camps that host amazing experiences students love but ultimately are summer hangouts with Jesus sprinkled in. I have nothing against those camps, but when I think about what my position entails and what I am called to do, I need to make sure these trips are helping me meet my goal and objectives.
My position states I am to help students grow and mature in their relationship with Jesus and anything we do in our ministry should be focused on that purpose. So when I am considering where to take students, I must be thinking in that way in order to achieve what I was hired to do. Whenever I look at camps or retreat centers, I look for places that will help students grow in their relationship with Jesus, and still have fun and creative aspects they will enjoy.
Find a site that enables you and your leaders to engage with students.
Sometimes you may find a retreat center that requires you and your team to handle all the details. You need to be the speaker or you need to book one. Your team has to handle the worship leading, meal prep, activity coordination, and all the other details. While that isn’t inherently a bad thing–especially if you are equipped to do it–it may not be the most ideal situation for you and your team to engage with the students.
So consider the requirements that extend to you and your team, and ask if they are the best way for you to minister to and care for your students. If not, you may want to look for a camp that takes care of the details and enables you to spend the trip simply being present with your students.