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Why spiritual retreats fail to have long-lasting impact

Why spiritual retreats fail to have long-lasting impact

Holding a spiritual retreat can be a great way to launch or re-energize a ministry. There’s something powerful about leaving behind the daily grind to enter the wilderness, like Jesus and others throughout history have done. Removed from our routine, we find clarity and connection with God and with each other that we don’t typically find in our normal lives.

But what typically happens is that the spiritual high the attenders experienced during the retreat fades away as they get back to their normal lives. The impact we expected the retreat to have turns out to be short-lived—something that people reminisce about instead of trying to incorporate into their everyday lives.

The amount of time and resources we invest in retreats feels like a waste when the experience doesn’t result in lasting spiritual growth. So we start to plan the next one and hope that maybe this time, real change will happen.

It’s difficult to design a spiritual retreat that has long-term impact. It’s difficult because many Christians don’t fully grasp:

    • The power of grace and how it can transform a person’s life.
    • How to position themselves before God to receive grace, or
    • How difficult it is to take a retreat experience and apply it to daily life.

Ways to give spiritual retreats a life-changing impact

There are three things you must do if you want your spiritual retreats to lead to transformed lives:

1. Share “grace stories”

The first goal of your retreat should be to help participants “see” what it looks like to receive grace in the midst of a life challenge. Being able to see something before you do it yourself is an essential step in the process of learning.

The best way to do this at a retreat is to tell third- or first-person stories or provide written stories of people who were transformed by grace. These stories should lead people to think things like, “I wonder if God would do that for me?” and “I never knew that God was ready to help me like that.”

Don’t overlook this first step by assuming that participants understand the transformational power of grace. Christians use the word “grace” all the time without fully comprehending what it means.

2. Practice together

The second goal should be to help people experience how God’s grace can help them do something they can’t do for themselves.

A good way to accomplish this is to lead the group through the steps of a spiritual discipline like forgiveness, relinquishment of fears and worries, listening prayer, etc. By working through the steps as a group, people are able to do something they might be reluctant to try by themselves.

We know that most people aren’t in the habit of seeking God’s help with the small problems that come up in everyday life. And if they’re not in the habit, then they likely don’t know exactly how to seek his help. Practicing together helps people overcome these hurdles. It also helps them understand what the Lord meant when he said to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12-9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

3. Equip for the struggle

If people have experienced grace by practicing together, they’ll be ready to leave the retreat and continue to position themselves before God’s throne of grace in the days and weeks to come. But they’ll face obstacles to doing this--old habits, doubts, fears, distractions, time demands, etc. Satan is good at making it difficult for people to rely on God.

There are things you can do to equip them for this struggle: 1) ask them to commit to keep seeking God’s help with their problems; 2) help them set an “action trigger,” a pre-made decision to go home and keep using what they learned at a certain time each week and 3) help them connect with 1-2 other participants who they can stay in contact with after the retreat.

Most people aren’t aware of how hard it is to take a retreat experience and apply it to everyday life. They’ll need all the help you can give them.

When you make time for GRACE STORIES, PRACTICE TIME, and EQUIPPING FOR THE STRUGGLE, your spiritual retreats will begin to have a long-lasting impact. Attendees will understand the power of God’s grace, know how to seek his help with their everyday problems, and be ready to get over the hurdles they’ll face when the retreat is over.

Try out a new approach to spiritual retreats

Download our Retreat Enhancer and use it at your next retreat. It contains a set of simple, ready-to-use tools for a 90-minute session on relinquishment (seeking God’s help with worries and fears). The tools include a handout and a set of leader notes.

When you use this in your next retreat, you can expect it to be the experience that people talk about when they go back home. 

Please tell us where to send your Retreat Enhancer. We’ll send it immediately.

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Essential Practices
Essential Practices

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