20130505-100401.jpgMost youth retreats are as over-programmed as the everyday lives of the teens they are designed for. Every minute—often including “free time”—is scheduled and planned.

But for the second year in a row, my youth ministry colleague Kimberlee Frost has planned the kind of retreat that teens (and adults) actually need. There is a very loose schedule with lots of legitimate free time. Activities are planned, but it’s no big deal if they never happen in the organic flow of the weekend. If kids need to, they have time for homework. There are opportunities and freedom for long walks or even longer naps.

Both last year and this year it has been obvious that our stressed and exhausted youth need the freedom of this down time to unwind, relax, and recharge. Yet we can’t seem to get a large group to come. In fact, this year over half the group cancelled, some at the very last minute. They all had legitimate reasons like homework, test prep, or extracurricular activities. They just couldn’t escape the relentless grind of teen life. They couldn’t get away from the very things they need to get away from in order to enjoy a weekend like this.

I’m convinced more than ever that providing time and space for retreat experiences—for even a day or a few hours—is a critical task of contemporary youth ministry, at least in busy urban environments like the one I serve.

John W. Vest

John is a "church hacker" attempting to overcome the limitations of church as we know it. To connect with him and learn more about his work, please visit johnvest.com.

Reader Interactions


  1. Truly a much needed retreat not only for the teens but the adults too! We should all make more time for rest & meditation in our lives! I’m recharged!!!

  2. a few years ago we came to the same conclusion, and stopped taking high schoolers to the retreats offered in our area. Instead we just rented a house somewhere (at a church camp, usually), or went to a congregation member’s vacation home, and basically hung out. There were options for activities, and a couple planned things, but mostly it was a Sabbath. so much better.

    But then how to get them to come? I wonder if you’re experiencing the reality that if it’s “just” hanging out with friends, they can do that anywhere/anytime/in more entertaining ways, so they don’t need to make time for a retreat? (I read that somewhere…but then the primary reason kids come to youth group is to see friends, so…not sure if that’s a real consideration or not.)

  3. I have found this to be true for all ages. I have attended many business meeting packed so full that a 15 minute break is a luxury. The meetings that were unstructured, or a couple of hours in the am then pm were the most energizing and informative. Too bad many businesses are reverting to jamming everything full of stuff. Maybe have electric church as a loose focus?

Leave a Reply