Our summer retreat has been the highlight event for many students for the past 7 years. In our first summer retreat, 4 students came. But since then, we’ve consitently had around 40 participants each year. I’m glad many people have experienced God and grew spiritually through those retreats. But things will change a bit.
We have passively allowed people from different church to attend our retreat in the past but that will stop starting from this year. The reason is we have redefined the purpose of this retreat. So far, we’ve used the retreat to help people to “experience” God in an intimate setting. So we encouraged people to bring whoever they could, especially VIPs. But what I’ve noticed is that retreat is a great place for those who were “not close” previously to get closer, but not for “strangers” to get to know people. Also, unlike “camping” or “ski-trip”, retreat takes place in a very “Christian” setting, which can be an intimate setting for insiders but pretty intimidating setting for outsiders or unchurched people. We’ve had some VIPs during those retreats but from my observation, many struggled to fit in during the retreat because they knew very little people before they came.
So now we want to use summer retreat “mainly” for members to be united and rally around our “church vision”, by strengthening our church “culture”. Not many things will change but in light of this new direction, it would not make sense to have people from different church to be present. We are not trying to be exclusive but to be faithful to the purpose of this retreat.
So far, it feels like we’ve taken “shot-gun” approach to many events – “If VIP comes, it is good, but even if not, it is ok as well”. This approach makes it very hard for us to evaluate our event if it was successful or not. Instead, we want each event to have specific purpose and target group. We are planning to have some very VIP specific events next year so that we become more intentional in our ministry approach.
So if you want to bring VIPs to the retreat, it would be wise to ask some questions first: “Are they already being prayed for by house church/flock every week?” “Do they know some of our house church/flock members”? “How open are they to Christianity and its beliefs?” We would love to have VIPs in our retreats but this will ensure we stay sensitive to those outside our church and make our retreat more focused.