Many of us have fond memories of going on retreats as teenagers, most likely as part of a youth ministry program in the church we grew up in. Many of us have fond memories of such times together spent with food, fun, and learning in the out-of-doors. And there are a few of us who, as adults, still seek out those retreat opportunities to engage with others (and ourselves) on a deeper level.
There are good reasons why retreats are appealing and have such positive outcomes for the participants. For the past four years, The Confirmation Project, which received a Lilly Grant through Princeton Theological Seminary, has been “researching the extent to which confirmation and equivalent practices in five Protestant denominations in North America are effective for strengthening discipleship in youth.” You will find fascinating reports and descriptions of their research results in the book, Cultivating Teen Faith, but for this post, I’d like to focus on what they discovered about retreats.
They found that while it is tempting to use retreats as a place to cover a lot of material given the extended hours available, retreats are best spent going deeper, without trying to cover a lot of information. The opportunity to build Christian community, offer time for spiritual reflection, try new spiritual practices, and engage in a single topic are ways to provide this deepening. As a result, the participants will
be prepared and more willing to share what they learned with others when they return to the congregation;
find renewed energy to serve in leadership roles or focus on a specific ministry;
and help to nurture existing relational ties with those back at home, due to their new and revitalized relationships with the other retreat participants.
These results are especially important to foster in our teens.
In the historic Massachusetts Conference, we have recognized these benefits of time spent away for many years. Our annual Confirmation Retreats
and Youth Retreat
have served hundreds of teens and their adult leaders, and they continue to do so. I encourage you to start making plans for your next ministry-enriching retreat today!
It is the power of community that shapes faith. Come outside with us to meet God through Christian community.
Debbie Gline Allen is the part-time Associate for Faith Formation and Youth Ministries for the historic Massachusetts Conference United Church of Christ. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 508-603-6601.
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