Weekend retreats can make a powerful contribution to your work with your church's young people. It's like a youth night that lasts 48 hours!

Here is the typical shape of my own church's Fall Youth Retreat:


These times will need to be altered for your own situation, of course. This schedule was prepare for a trip to a camp 3 hours away from our starting location.

  • 4:00pm - Gather at a central meeting place, such as your church parking lot. This is time to confirm you've got everyone's consent forms, and to get everyone's baggage loaded.

  • 4:30pm - Depart. Count heads, assign seats, and head out.

  • 6:15pm - Supper stop on the road. Part of the fun on a retreat is the chance to grab food on the run. Ahead of time, look for a stop with a few options close together on one side of the highway. Keep good control here -- require that every group of young people is accompanied by a leader. You don't want to lose track of people! (Alternatively, you might consider pre-ordering some pizzas to simplify the supper stop if you have a longer trip to make, such as in this example.)

  • 6:30pm - Back on the road

  • 8:00pm - Arrive at the camp, assign cabins

  • 8:30pm - Chapel #1 - Retreat Welcome. Do some activities to learn names, and to break the ice. Introduce your speaker. Have the speaker share a short talk to introduce the focus for the weekend. Pray compline together to end the chapel time.

  • 9:30pm - Snack and hang-out

  • 11:00pm - Lights Out


  • 8:30am - Breakfast

  • 9:30am - Chapel #2. This is a big integrated time:

    Quiet Time Sheets

    Prepare some personal devotion sheets inviting your young people to read a passage of scripture, think about it on their own, and to spend some time in prayer. Come back together after 20-30 minutes and think together on some of the questions on the sheets.

    Group Activity
    Run some mixer activities to get everyone interacting individually. And then run a group activity. You might choose to center your activities around a memory verse for the weekend. (20 minutes)

    Sing 3 or 4 songs together. Choose fun, "campy" songs. Don't try to make this an overly serious time. Hoot and holler. This is camp time! Stand on the pews and make some noise in playful worship.

    Speaker's first full message, about 30 minutes. Instruct your leaders to pay careful attention, since they'll be heading into their small groups afterwards.

    Small Groups
    If the weather is good, groups might enjoy finding an outdoor location to meet. If weather is bad, it's best to head back to cabins for a time of discussion and prayer. This is meant to be a "debrief" time where youth leaders can help their students to think through some of the things the speaker talked about. Spend some time praying for each other. If this retreat marks the start of your year of youth group, these small group times will help to establish youth-to-youth and youth-to-leader relationships. For this reason, leave lots of time for small group time!

  • 12:00pm - Lunch. Before the retreat, assign people to clean up crews for each meal. They'll respond better if crews are 'announced from on-high' rather than formed on the spot.

  • 1:30pm - Camp Activity Time #1 - time for some fun! Go canoeing, on a hike, or take advantage of the activities the camp offers. Some camps have climbing walls, zip-lines, or giant swings. This provides a lot of group enjoyment, and is a really constructive way to fill up an afternoon.

  • 3:30pm - Snack. Help people recharge and wind down with a snack, followed by unstructured free time.

  • 4:00pm - Free time -- important for leaders as well as youth. People need time to recharge. Set boundaries for this, though, to make sure people don't wander off too far or get into harmful or questionable situations.

  • 5:30pm - Supper

  • 6:45pm - Chapel #3. Similar to the morning chapel, but with a few less pieces: No personal devotions, no small group time afterward. Mixer, group activity, music, and speaker. Then instruct your youth to prepare for the night game. Keep your leader team back to go over the rules.

  • 8:15pm - Night Game. We've found it is better relationally to run games that pit leaders against youth instead of two youth teams against each other. Youth will play to win, while you can trust your leaders to play to facilitate. 

  • 9:45pm - Snack (and campfire if possible). Some summers are too dry for fires, but if you can, a campfire is a great way to end a long retreat day. You could bring out the guitar, tell stories, or just simply enjoy a time to relax together.

  • 11:00pm - Lights Out


  • 8:30am - Breakfast

  • 9:30am - Final Chapel. Just like the morning chapel on Saturday:
    Quiet Time Sheets and discussion afterward; mixer and group activity; music; speaker; small group time.

  • 11:30am - Cabin clean up / pack up. Get a head start on clean-up before lunch.

  • 11:45pm - Lunch. Earlier lunch time to allow enough time to clean up the camp before your departure time.

  • 12:30pm - Camp clean up / pack up

  • 1:30pm - Leave camp

  • 5:00pm - Arrival home - the end!

A well-run retreat can add important momentum for the rest of the year.

Think of retreats like steps on a staircase. You start your year on a certain level, and can slowly ascend new levels as you grow together. A retreat is an intensified time of connection. By spending 48 hours together, doing intentional things together, you'll find you proceed into your year on a new plateau. It's worth pouring tons of effort into the experience of retreats because the relational and ministerial payoff can be enormous.