How to Plan the Ultimate Youth Group Retreat for Your Community

There’s something incredibly special about community-wide youth group retreats. We’re big fans of bringing together different youth groups, seeing kids make new friends, and deepen ministries across town. (And we love seeing y’all succeed!)

^ You reading the first paragraph just now

But we also know how overwhelming it can get, especially if your ministry is the one leading the charge on putting everything together. We’ve got this checklist of sorts to help you launch a youth group retreat your students and your community won’t forget. 

Location is everything

When it comes to planning a retreat, choosing the right location is key. There’s a lot of factors to consider, like: 

  • Centralized location for all churches involved in the retreat
  • Where kids will stay (if it’s an overnight event)
  • Activities available in the area
  • What the overall budget is for the event and what ministries want to put towards a location
  • Amenities at the location and how those amenities can offset additional costs of other elements like food or lodging

This next bit is important: once you have your location, plan your retreat around what that location offers. Don’t try to force certain activities to happen if the location can’t handle it! For example, if your location is an outdoor venue, don’t try to force a lights-and-smoke style worship session! Opt for acoustic-leaning worship services and minimal equipment. 

Rally around a theme

A key part of the retreat is a feeling of togetherness. Having a uniform theme for the event can bring people together and make it easier for youth ministers to lead their groups. It doesn’t even have to be a large-scale theme; you can work with a central scripture that speakers and activities will unpack throughout the retreat! Keeping to a singular theme will help your students remember more of the weekend, while also allowing them to dive deeper into what they take away from the retreat.  

Get activities together

Activities are a great way to support everything going on in worship and in breakout sessions. (Plus, it’s another way your middle schoolers can get out their excess energy…) You don’t have to go all out with your activities, but make sure they’re in line with the theme of the retreat. Also, consider the retreat’s location! If you’re in a gorgeous retreat in the woods, make the most of that ambience! 

Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing: 

  • Hiking or nature walks: Take advantage of the outdoors and plan a nature walk or hike. You can add in a reflective element to this and allow kids the opportunity to journal what they’ve learned and soak up God’s creation.
  • Game nights: Organize a night of board games, card games, or other fun activities that encourage interaction and friendly competition. It’s a great opening activity to get kids from different youth groups to open up and talk to each other. 
  • Service projects: Giving back brings people together and puts what your youth group is learning into practice! Plan a service project in the community, such as volunteering at a local soup kitchen or cleaning up a park.

Plan downtime

While it’s important to keep the group engaged and active, it’s also important to allow for downtime. (Yes, even for middle schoolers.) Plan a few hours each day for free time, where participants can relax and recharge. This is the perfect time to open up a “retreat shop” or give students time to hang out at the amenities at the retreat location. If you’ve got the bandwidth, you can also lead activities such as arts and crafts or quiet reflection time for students. 

Create custom t-shirts

We can hear you now… “Oh theeeere it is!” 

But wait, wait! You’ve already come this far! Let us finish! 

Custom shirts are a great way to bring unity to a retreat that involves groups who wouldn’t normally interact with one another! And that feeling of unity can help students feel more comfortable with each other. Feeling comfortable means that students are less likely to focus on what someone new thinks of them and focus on what’s being talked about in worship or small group breakout. 

A DIY church youth group retreat doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. With some planning and creativity, you can create a meaningful and memorable experience for everyone involved. At Uth Stuph, we’ve got over 25 years of experience helping youth ministers and group leaders create shirts that bring kids together. If you want a quote (and some fast turnaround), drop us a line