Last week I posted my first retreat hack. It got me thinking about today’s topic. As I’ve stated before, I’ve done about 3,000 retreats in my time. I can plan a retreat in five minutes. Literally. I have one trick in particular that makes this process painless. I’m going to share that trick with you today. This trick is particularly useful to those of you who use Life Teen, but it works for anyone who has regular youth ministry meetings.

Step One: The Outline

When I begin planning a retreat I always start with an outline. It’s usually handwritten, but not always. I like to take the start time and end time for the retreat (or each day during the retreat if it is longer) and write out the time in between in hour increments. As an example, let’s say I’m planning a day retreat that will begin at 8:00am and end at 9:00pm on a Saturday. I’ll sit down and draw out this outline (My handwriting is atrocious, so I’m typing this one out for y’all. You’re welcome).

Step One


Step Two: The Sessions

This step is the real "hack" in my process. Every retreat can be broken down into two basic types of events. You have your catechetical sessions and entertainment sessions. The "hack" is to think of each of these sessions as one Life Night, which is just Life Teen’s name for a youth ministry meeting. For most youth programs I’ve been involved with these meetings last one to two hours. I like mine to run two hours.

When you view your retreat through this lens, planning is no sweat. You plan youth group meetings every week. If you’re doing it correctly, your volunteers know how to plan and run a youth ministry meeting as well, so you don’t even have to plan the whole thing by yourself. If you have a twelve hour day retreat with three sessions at two hours each, you have half of your schedule accounted for before you even start your outline. The first thing I do is decide the topics for the catechetical sessions. I almost always use three for a day retreat. At this step you will make decisions on how many sessions you’ll have and what they will discuss. You’ll also decide what you want to do for entertainment. I almost always include team games in the afternoon, so I’ll have two hours set there. Most times I can sit down and start an outline with half the retreat already planned. When I finish the first draft of the outline, it looks something like this.

Step Two


Step Three: Put The other Essentials In Place

In most cases, there are certain events that you know you’ll have to include on every retreat. You’ll always have an introduction session where you will introduce your volunteers and let the teens mingle. You’ll always have meals. You’ll always have catechetical sessions and entertainment sessions. Once you plug all of these into the schedule it should look something like this.

Step Three


You’ll notice how full the schedule looks already. I haven’t even begun to work on content. This is just the basics. A few minutes in and I’m almost done.

Step Four: Fill in the Blanks

At this point I’ll look at the empty spaces in the schedule and put in activities. For example, in the above picture I have a totally empty time slot after lunch. I’ll add a fun activity to wake everyone up after lunch.

Step Four

And just like that, my schedule is done. My retreat is set. All there’s left to do is…

Step Five: The Hard Part

Your retreat is planned out now. It only took you five minutes. All there’s left to do is elaborate on the activities that are scheduled. However you do things in your program, whether you assign projects to volunteers or whether you as the youth minister plan the whole thing, you get on it. Again, approach each session and activity as a regular youth ministry meeting. If you’ve been doing this for a while, it’ll be like riding a bike.


I’m a retreat monster, so if I skipped over something that you feel I should address, feel free to post in the comments. Or if you have questions about retreats in general, let me know. Until next time, Internet!