As long as I can remember, and at as many churches as I can remember, there has been one staple youth event each and every year: a youth retreat during the winter. Call it what you will but it seems that every church with a youth program takes time during the winter months to bring their youth group to a far-off land (usually New York) for a weekend of learning, fun, freezing temperatures, and no sleep. Our church is no different; we make it a point to have a youth retreat each winter. It is important to understand why this event exists (since youth retreats aren’t explicitly prescribed in the Bible). I can’t speak to all the reasons why most churches have a youth retreat but I will gladly list 4 reasons why my church endeavors to bring our teens on our Winter Retreat.
It is a time to purposefully dig into the Bible. The core goal of our retreat is to help kids consider, meditate on, and apply God’s perfect, life-giving Word (Ps 19:7-11) in order to make this a daily habit for their lives (Josh 1:8). Between the retreat’s sessions, group discussion time, and personal morning devotionals the teens have a weekend with 4 weeks’ worth of sermons and a week’s worth of personal devotionals.
It is a time to unplug from the world. Phones have captured the heart, minds, and hands of our young people (and us old people too). Most of the time these tiny machines serve as idolatrous distractions from God who ought to be the true and right captivator of our heart, minds, and hands (Rom 1:25). Our retreats are phone free for the explicit purpose of getting kids into their Bibles and involved in the lives of their Christian peers and shepherds (Matt 22:37-40).
It is a time to unify the church body. No matter the age, physique, IQ, family heritage, or potential of a Christian there is something spectacular given to them through Christ: access to and unity in the church. This unity is something that needs to be protected and fostered (Eph 4:3). It cannot be taken for granted because the Christian’s life was designed to be a part of Christ’s body (Eph 2:19-22). Winter Retreat is a fantastic time to grow this unity, both with peer-to-peer relationships and with inter-generational relationships, around fellowship, food, and fun. Friendships are cast, accountability is created, and love for others prospers and prayerfully continues at home.
It is a time to present the gospel to unbelieving peers. If there were ever a time that a teen from an unbelieving context could hear the gospel preached and have it showcased to them by the visible unity of Christ’s body without normal distractions, it would be Winter Retreat. This is the main reason our Winter Retreat is open to our youths’ friends and family. Even more than that, our youth grow in courage to stand up for what they believe in and enter into others’ lives with a missional, Christ-glorifying mindset (Matt 28:16-20).