They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)
Plan a Retreat Like the Early Church
The early church knew how to gather together! As it says in Acts 2:42, the members of the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
What can we learn from this format of teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and time of prayer and worship when planning a retreat whether it’s intergenerational, women or men only, families, youth, confirmation class, or governing boards?
Study the Word! Using a passage as the core theme of the retreat, consider the ancient spiritual practice of Lectio Divina (“sacred reading”) as a way to read and pray Scripture. Someone reads a short biblical passage aloud three times, with others listening for a word or phrase that stands out to them. Pray for God’s guidance for understanding, and then allow a time of contemplation to listen to the application for one’s life. Some may share what they’ve heard or sensed they feel called to do.
Plan in fun! Relationships develop and strengthen when we play together. You can do anything from cooperative crafts, to trust and team building games to a rousing game of “Spoons” or “Sardines.” How can church officers not build up trust of one another after that kind of activity? Whatever you do, plan for intentional fellowship.
Breaking of Bread
Share meals! No buffet lines. Set the table(s) and use a centerpiece. When we walk through a buffet line we are serving ourselves. Practice the art of servanthood by pouring drinks for one another and passing the salad and rolls. Then do the dishes together.
Spend time in worship! Build in praise to God through prayers and song. Light candles to signify Christ’s presence. Ask participants to bring musical instruments to share during this time. Use a responsive or group reading to open or close your gathering.
How To Plan a Retreat – Where to Start
In addition to the above, consider how can your retreat also be outwardly focused? How can mission or service to others be woven into it? Can you do a service project on the site? How can you leave your retreat location (the actual building or the community) better than when you arrived?
Gather a team together to plan and implement your retreat, drawing on the gifts needed for developing the teaching, fellowship, shared meals, and worship.
Do you need a resource for incorporating the aspects of the early church into your gathering? Consider Family ‘round the Table downloadable resources from GenOn Ministries. Each lectionary year (A, B, C) includes 52 sessions.
Sample Retreat Format
Here’s a sample of a retreat using the theme of “trees.”
Read and study Jeremiah 17:5-8 (“…But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream…”)
Take a walk in the woods or neighborhood looking for interesting bark patterns. Use light colored paper and dark crayons to make rubbings. When you return to the retreat site, create one large imaginary tree made up of all the different designs.
Breaking of Bread
Create a menu for at least one meal with anything that grows on trees: apples, bananas, pears, oranges, walnuts, coconut. Use centerpieces with branches, leaves or acorns.
Blessing: Almighty God, Maker of heaven and earth and everything in it, bless us as we share the bounty of your creation and enjoy eating things that grew on trees. In the name of Christ we pray, Amen.
Light a worship candle and place an open Bible next to it. Choose a song such as the spiritual “I Shall Not Be Moved.” Invite everyone to share their prayer concerns and their joys and create a prayer around them. Using the words of Psalm 1 (from The Message), close the worship time by praying responsively:
Leader: How well God must like you — you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon, you don’t slink along Dead-End Road, you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College.
All: Instead you thrill to God’s Word, you chew on Scripture day and night.
Leader: You’re a tree replanted in Eden, bearing fresh fruit every month, Never dropping a leaf, always in blossom.
All: You’re not at all like the wicked, who are mere windblown dust—Without defense in court, unfit company for innocent people.
Leader: God charts the road you take. The road they take is Skid Row.
Mission or Service
Bring some small saplings and seek permission to plant some at the site of your retreat.
Retreats don’t need to be over planned — allowing time for rest and recharging is essential. But they should be intentional. Being purposeful about providing a time to learn (teaching), a time for community (fellowship), a time for shared meals (breaking of bread) and a time for worship (prayer) will guide your experience together.
Liz Perraud is the Executive Director of GenOn Ministries, a non-denominational Christian organization that works in partnership with local church leaders to build disciples of Jesus Christ through intergenerational relationships.