Retreat and Grow

A while back, I climbed the hill behind our house. After catching my breath, my thoughts settled on some struggling young Christian families my wife and I knew who seemed unprepared to climb the steep hills of their lives. What could Ruth and I do to help these struggling couples become more spiritually fit? I wonder. Our children were grown. Looking down on our home, I thought of the empty bedrooms and all the planning, prayer and energy we had put into parenting. Is there a way we could share some of the ideas we used?

After much discussion and prayer--and despite our lack of special training or skills--Ruth and I decided to go for it! We designed a simple weekend retreat that we could host in our home.

Our retreats begin on Friday night and end around noon on Sunday. Our main objective for Friday evening is breaking the ice. Snacks, introductions, and laughs help us get comfortable with one another. On Saturday morning, we begin digging into our four relationship themes for the weekend: relationship with God (family and individual), with spouses, with children, and with unbelievers.

Most of our retreaters are parents, so parenting principles draw peak interest. We cover what the Bible says about disciplining children and give couples time to go off together for private discussions. In fact, we try to include plenty of free time in our schedule so retreaters can process what they're hearing. When appropriate, we divide the group for gender-specific discussions.

Our final session on Sunday morning is designed to pull the weekend together into a family-changing plan of action. We finish with sharing, retreat evaluation forms, hugs--and maybe one last recreational activity before the couples return to the real world.

We often follow up with a reunion lunch or party. When we meet, whether at a reunion or elsewhere, the couples have come to expect our question: "How are you doing with your goals?"

We now host four retreats a year. Both the empty nesters and the empty bedrooms are more occupied!

Practical Details

*Retreaters. The majority of our retreaters attend our church and respond to announcements or personal recommendations from elders, pastors, or couples who have attended a previous retreat. We do insist on a reference from an elder or pastor to be sure the couple is not in crisis. We've also held interest-specific groups, such as retreats for doctor couples.

*Cost and arrangements. We do not charge anything for the weekend. Our primary cost is food, which we cover ourselves (though you could certainly ask attendees to contribute). My wife gets the house and food ready because she enjoys modeling hospitality to younger wives.

*Childcare. In addition to the usual solutions, couples who have attended a previous retreat sometimes volunteer to babysit for new retreaters. Other couples simply exchange sitting services.

*Capacity. We have four guest couples per weekend (with one or two backup couples in case of last minute cancellations). We've found a retreat also works with three couples, but having only two can create too intimate a setting. If you don't have as many bedrooms as you'd like, a room in a nearby home would be a possibility. Hide-a-beds also work, as long as the couple has privacy.