**This post was originally published in 2012 at Not About Me. The author recently moved it to this blog.**
We recently took a family retreat–not a vacation or holiday, although there were elements of both. The purpose was to actually look at and listen to each other and God. We left behind all electronic devices except parents’ cellphones (for emergency use only). We wanted to invest in each other and deepen our relationships. It went so well that we decided to make it an annual thing. We went to an all-inclusive resort at a nearby beach, but you could go anywhere. If you’re disciplined, you might even stay home. (That wouldn’t have worked for us. We get distracted too easily.)
To start, pray for God to give you ideas that fit your family and that will help all of you grow toward Him and toward each other. Ask for a spirit of peace and good attitudes between all the members of your family. If your kids are older, give them responsibilities in preparation. This will help them take ownership and get excited about the time together. I know one family in which the pre-teen son made the schedule for the entire retreat.
Below, I will list some of the ideas that we implemented. If you’ve taken a family retreat with your family, or if you have additional ideas, please reply!
- Each person leads devotions one morning/night while there. I think any child old enough to form coherent sentences could do this. Young children might just pick a Bible story to be read and start a prayer time. The underlying point is that every believer has something spiritual to share and every member of the family is important.
- Over the course of the retreat, each person tells his or her ‘story’ (how he/she came to follow Jesus). It’s not possible for our children to hear our stories or practice their own too often.
- On top of devotions, spend extended time in Bible study at a set time each day. “Extended” is a flexible word; it depends on your children’s attention spans. Make the Bible study something that filters into the rest of the day. For example, while you’re sitting by the pool (or whatever), ask your oldest child a follow-up question related to that morning’s study. You might work through a short book of the Bible (e.g. Phillipians) or do something topical (e.g. kindness). Don’t put too much advance work into this. Just let the Spirit lead as you read and meditate on the Word together.
- Each person chooses a recreational activity that the entire family does together at some point during the retreat. One of our children wanted to play tennis while another wanted to look for shells on the beach. Again, we want to undergird the idea that everyone in the family is valuable and has something to contribute. We also wanted to validate each other’s interests.
- Before leaving, each person submits topics for discussion over meals. We wrote these on index cards, then drew one at random for each meal. The point is to get beyond what we watched on TV last week into how God is leading our family and how we can improve. Every person should answer. Some examples (but you’ll have your own):
- What scares you about the future?
- What excites you about the future? (Be more specific if you need to.)
- What do you wish our family did differently? or What is something that you would like to change about our family?
- What is one of your favorite memories of our family being together?
- What is our family ‘about’? (This is good if you planto write a family mission statement.)
- How do you feel about [something big that happened recently]?
- How would you like for us to spend time together in the future? e.g. vacation, weekend road-trip, at-home family time
- Each person gets a ‘souvenir’ of the retreat. We all chose shells from the beach. It might be a rock, a piece of wood, a Lego block, bookmarks that you make . . . it doesn’t have to be expensive.
- Certificates: Everyone makes everyone else a certificate recognizing him/her for an area of improvement or something the person does well. Ask all family members to be thinking about this in advance. We had a special ‘ceremony’ on the first evening and presented these. Three months later, our children still mention the awards they received that night. Examples: Perseverance, Hugging, Outstanding Improvement in ________, Attitude, Encouraging. This was definitely the highlight of our retreat!
Even with all this, we still had plenty of time just to be together, to play in the pool, to nap. What about your family?