Here are five key elements for making your own in-town retreat a great experience for the teens in your ministry:
1. Parent and family volunteers. Three awesome families opened their homes and let groups of teenagers take over their basements, bathrooms, and back yards. Young people got to rub shoulders with some very generous people who know how to practice hospitality, and it made a significant difference in their lives. Getting solid parents to capture the vision of the ministry and give up a weekend to serve teenagers is beautiful picture of the kingdom of God.
2. Create some "wow" moments. Whether it's a big elaborate game, a surprise worship band, riding a mechanical bull, whatever--just be sure to have one element that leaves the youth going "wow." Our "wow" moment came in the form of slip-n-slide kickball, which is essentially kickball with kiddie pools as the bases and plastic sheeting covered in soap as the baselines. Create something that will cause students to light up with delight when they see it.
3. Great video curriculum. For our retreat, we have four teaching sessions where we show a video and have a small group discussion, mostly in the homes where students are staying. This requires having DVDs or downloadable files of video teaching. There are plenty of great video curriculum resources available; we used the Chase videos from Flannel for two reasons: 1) it was only $21 for seven videos, and 2) it was a great balance between spiritual depth and accessibility for teens. If the videos are too long, too boring, too cheesy, or too adult-oriented, teens won't connect.
4. Discerning and intentional leaders. This weekend could not have happened without great adult volunteer leaders who are passionate about discipleship. From moments driving in the car to free time in between events, adults were having deep conversations with teens about their identity, beliefs, doubts, fears, and dreams. It's not enough to rely on a video curriculum or my own preaching abilities to connect with teens--they need one-on-one discipleship from a loving adult who can pace alongside them and intentionally lead them in the ways of Jesus. I love my volunteer team, and love what God did in and through them this past weekend.
5. Make it cheap. The entire weekend cost $25 per student. It included renting out an entire bowling alley, a private movie screening, slip-n-slide kickball, the video curriculum, and all their meals and transportation. Even trying to go see a movie nowadays nearly costs $20, so this was a fantastic deal. Keeping it inexpensive means more young people can come!