Last weekend my family experienced a real treat: a retreat with our church where we weren’t in charge of anything, where few expectations were placed on us, and where our whole family was welcome to just about everything. We can’t say that very often.
But we came home with a vanload of kids and adults who all said, “We can’t wait to do this again!”
This was our first experience with an all-church retreat that was so intentionally inclusive. It wasn’t perfect. Not everyone loved everything about it. But here are a few things that I observed related to Sticky Faith as a hundred folks ages 6-months to 60-something gathered for a weekend away:
- Open Space. This was one of the most de-programmed retreats I have ever been part of. But not without purpose. In place of “sessions” and tight schedules, the loosely-structured schedule was posted on the wall and folks were welcome to add in their own events: gathering for a hike, ultimate Frisbee, or a photo walk. What happened during all that open space? Conversation. Relationship building. Spontaneous games, music, and deep talks. Unhurried experiences.
- Memory-making. If you ask my kids, they are likely to tell you one of three stories about the retreat. One involves a late-night game of capture the flag, another involves a variety show act featuring a dead fish. The third is about a wedding (more on this one below). Without much expense, some incredible memory-making events unfolded. These memories are tied to relationships across generations.
- Celebrating life. During the weekend we celebrated two birthdays and a wedding. The couple decided to weave their wedding into this church family retreat weekend during our closing worship service on Sunday morning. A few others joined us for the event, but it felt like a very natural part of what we had been doing all weekend: celebrating life together. As a community we witnessed vows and pledged support for this couple, then they served us Communion as we closed our retreat with a shared sacrament.
- Shared meals. All retreats have food, but this part can’t be underestimated for the potential to create meaningful table conversation. Our family made new relationships and strengthened existing ones over meals around crowded tables sharing food and stories. We had to work a bit to keep the kids included (the older ones tended to cluster themselves at their own tables), but a lot of connections were made.
- Prayer and worship. Yes, we did this too. What I appreciated was that kids weren’t shuttled off to do their own thing or expected to be perfectly quiet during our prayer and worship. They experienced welcome. We also all considered what it means to view rest, play, and conversation as holy disciplines alongside our more “formal” worship.
As I mentioned, not everyone loved everything about the weekend. Some parents wished for more time without their kids. Some folks wished there had been a little more organization of the open time. But at the end of the day, we walked away with richer relationships across boundaries that might normally keep us disconnected. Single, married, old, and young shared common experiences and made new stories. My own kids are still talking as much about the adults they interacted with as they are the kids their own ages. That’s a win.
What ideas or stories do you have about all-church retreats that have worked well?