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.