Tip# 7: Keep the Big Picture in Mind
There is a lot of value in getting college-age people away, by themselves. The atmosphere is conducive for hitting core age-stage issues and it can be a great time of getting connected with peers. On the other hand we can really use these times to help them have a deeper connection with the larger church body. This is of course crucial in college-age ministry and retreats can be one of the best ways to naturally accomplish this.
Here are some things you can do to help this connection happen naturally:
• Pick one couple for every 25 college-age people and ask them to come on your trip. Their job is NOT to chaperone, it’s just to hang out. This couple has to be hand picked by you! Age doesn’t matter, but there are some basic characteristics you want this couple to have: solid in their faith, honest and willing to speak their mind, fun, relaxed, and willing to hang out late at night playing cards, board games, etc.
• Have the couples host breakfast. Buy some breakfast food (cereal, fruit, bagels, etc.), give the couple a suite in the hotel or a designated area just for them, and have them host breakfast each morning for your students. The couple will simply set out the food each morning and the students can go to their suite to eat and hang out. Some will come, eat, and then leave. Others will hang out for a very long time just talking. The couple has to be relaxed during this time . . . just hanging out, laughing, eating.
• Don’t give the couple ANY other tasks. Their job is to hang out and be available. If they ski or snowboard, let them go all day. If they don’t, encourage them to go to the lodge and hang out around lunch time, have lunch with people that stay behind, or cruise around the mall with someone they clicked with. Remember, the goal is relational connection, so make sure they have time and space to build relationships. If necessary, have students who needed scholarships help with details before you ask the adults. These adults are friends of yours, there to hang out. It’s important you set them up as “normal” people, not chaperones or staff.
• Pray for natural connection to happen. I’ve found that when we expose college-age people to older mature believers in these types of ways natural mentoring relationships form. We don’t need to over structure it, we just need to pray. Set aside some times where you pray for the relationships and connections. Frequently check in with the adults you bring and ask them if they’re getting to know some people. Typically, if they’re just hanging out anyway and are simply available, you don’t even need to ask because it will be obvious.
Winter retreats can be fun no matter what, but we can also be very intentional with making them a part of our goal of assimilation. It’s not rocket science, just do a few things, keep it simple, and watch things happen.