Creating the Best Retreat Experience

Today let me give you some advice on how to help your guys have the best experience.

Setting the Best Goal for Your Experience

I believe the goal you should set for the retreat is team building, creating a solid, functioning group.

It is true that some of your men might make initial commitments for Christ. If this happens, hallelujah!, but it is not realistically possible to plan when another person will get saved. It is also true that individual men may grow personally. But don’t plan who will grow in what ways because each individual does best when taking responsibility for their own spiritual growth. (In fact, most men will shut down fast if they get the impression you have a design for their spiritual development.)

But what you can do, is create an environment to allow God to do His work in both of these areas and many others you would never have dreamed of.  For men this often means the trusted camaraderie of other men.  This is best created by unforced time together, especially if this time proves to be accomplishing something. (Building a bridge, reaching a destination, supporting a cause, learning a strategy, almost any kind of accomplishment will work.) This is team building, and where team building takes place individual men are also built up.

Having brought the men of my church to retreats like this one for over a decade now, I notice that many times they come believing the best part will be the food, the recreation, the time away, or the discipleship.  But after the event they always list the cabin time as the best part. Cabin time when well done is where the most team building takes place. Under the forms tab, there is a guideline for cabin time leaders you may want to look at.

Suggestions for Teambuilding

You know your group better than I do, so remember these are suggestions and not directives.  But here are six ways that the experience could be improved for most men.

  • Carpool and loosely caravan to and from the event

By carpooling you will make the trip more economical and will save some stress parking. The camp has limited spaces. But more importantly you will also begin the camaraderie in the car. To make this possible consider your drivers carefully. Pick men who are friendly, conversant, and also try to pick those with big roomy vehicles. Then don’t pack the cars full. Several hours shoulder to shoulder is not relaxing. A long drive, with the room to spread out and the attitude that it’s okay to have snacks, is much more relaxing and conducive to fellowship.

You are likely to have somebody who refuses to go, unless they can take their own car. Let them go in their own vehicle if they wish. Just be sure you communicate with them thoroughly as to the plan, where you plan to meet and when. If they have to arrive later, let them, but be sure to have the group welcome them when they do arrive.

On the way home, we eat lunch together, sometimes in Williams, other times in Seligman. This meal is often fast food instead of sit down. At this point we are still in carpools, but we loosen up on the caravan idea. Some of the men will be anxious to get home and less interested in stopping.

  • Schedule a relaxing afternoon around Williams

This time in the pines is how we intentionally get out of ‘valley mode’ and get into ‘mountain mode’. For our retreats we generally leave about 9:00 am. We stop at a truck stop in Kingman and stock up on coffee, donuts, and stretch. This means arriving in Williams right around noon. We frequently go to Pine Country Inn for lunch because they are famous for their wide variety of pies. Then we go to a local lake for several hours, generally picking the one most recently trout stocked. Only a few of the men will fish, the remaining ones will walk, talk, nap, and generally unwind.

Registration opens at 4:00 pm. We pick our bunks and put the luggage in the rooms before going back to Williams for dinner. Generally back to the same restaurant and everyone that skipped pie earlier gets a piece now. Then back to camp by 6:00 pm for the first session. Remember there is a snack at 10:00 that night, but if you want dinner you have to eat it before first session.

  • Intentionally sit together at meal times and in worship

We laugh about the way that Baptists eat, but the truth is that sharing meals together creates a bond, that is why potlucks are so valuable to a church. The same is true of worshiping together. If you bring a group to the retreat and they don’t do these two most basic unity building activities together, you are missing your greatest potential for team building moments. The fact that both are open seating means you will have to intentionally make it work out. Generally your best bet is if the group is already growing in unity and therefore walk to these events together.

  • Consider adding something just for your group

At every retreat we did something that was just us. With my guys, it is often food related like a Dairy Queen run on Saturday night. For other groups it might be a morning devotional under the pines, or a rock skipping contest on the lake. That time to do something with just your guys is valuable, it will allow the men to feel like your church had a customized experience.

  • Make ‘cabin time’ sacred

Cabin time is a planned part of the retreat when the men gather in small groups to digest and discuss what they are learning and experiencing. I notice some of the churches rush through cabin time, or skip it all together, perhaps because men can be very uncomfortable with communication. But when it is well done, it is the chance for the men to get honest, make decisions and grow.

Also depending on your group, you might want to cheat a little. If your group is not too large make it a time for all the guys for your church to be together. Perhaps that will mean gathering together your guys in one room although they filled two. Or it might mean stepping outside with a smaller group so that your conversation will be with just your men. If you have a larger group, divide up.  But plan who will lead each cabin in their cabin time carefully; and don’t let the individual groups be more than about twenty men.

  • Plan a reporting time after the event

My church has an evening service and is small enough that we can be very informal. Because of these factors we have a pattern that on Sunday night immediately after returning from camp, the men who are available, each take turns talking about their experiences. This helps solidify them as a group, helps them to digest the lessons learned, and it helps the entire church body be more excited about the camp experience. In fact it is a great tool to make more men want to go the next year. Doing this reporting as soon as possible makes it more effective because the excitement and memories are still strong. Generally we will download the camp video and show it to the church during that session.