This past weekend, I had the privilege of speaking and entertaining at a church-wide retreat at a camp in the middle of Nebraska.
What I witnessed in the dynamics of this retreat was one of the most powerful forms of the church being the church I’ve seen before. And I’m not talking about how they brought in some juggler for entertainment 🙂
First of all, most churches these days segregate generations for most programs, from Sunday School classes to camps and retreats. This church didn’t get the age segregation memo. They brought families, singles, college kids, the boomers, the builders, and the babies. It sounds so simple and makes me wonder why more churches don’t do the same.
This weekend was also Labor Day weekend, which is when this church holds their annual church- wide retreat. They expect it each year and plan their calendars accordingly. Folks arrive on Friday night at an idyllic paradise in the cornfields of Nebraska called Covenant Cedars Camp. They stay three nights and depart on Monday. And the attendees don’t have to be church members to come. Anyone who wants to come can come. This is a safe place for people to explore faith and connect with people of the Christian faith.
Some attendees bring tents and camp by the lake. Others splurge for a cabin with electricity and water. Daytime activities range from 3-on-3 basketball to the sandcastle-building competition at the lake beach. The kids all bring their bikes and ride freely around the camp. Youth can strum their guitars by the campfire and board game enthusiasts get their fix each night during snacks and games in the assembly hall.
There are worship services with an invited speaker in the mornings and evenings. On Sunday evening’s session, new believers gave testimonials in lieu of a pastor’s sermon. Then everyone went to the lake to watch the new believers get baptized. As I watched the testimonies last night, it was evident that this church reaches out and loves others unconditionally. The people giving testimonies were nervous but everyone in the crowd encouraged and happily welcomed them. Their stories were raw, sincere, and redemptive. In my opinion, that is what preaches more than anything else: true stories of God’s transformative power told in first-person vulnerability.
Does your church have a church-wide retreat? If so, how do you go about doing it? What are the benefits and the challenges?