Last Sunday night the teens from my parish returned from a weekend away at the Steubenville West Youth Conference in Tucson. They ended the weekend by coming to our Sunday evening Life Teen Mass. It was great to see all of them sitting together with their matching shirts and truly entering in to the Liturgy. It was obvious that something was different. The whole community noticed a change in them; God had moved their hearts in a powerful way.
This experience reminded me of how our teens were after our last retreat a few months earlier. To me, those are some of the best celebrations of the Mass that we have because of their enthusiasm and participation. I share this with you, not to brag about our teens at our parish, but to encourage every parish to invest in our young people and most especially to invest in retreats. Lots of times people ask me how to get teens to sing and having music as an integral part of a retreat is one of the best ways to open teens up to the idea of lifting their voices in song.
We are bombarded with noise, technology, and day-to-day craziness, so it’s essential to take a step back and refresh and renew ourselves . . . to just to be in God’s presence and learn more about Him.
If you haven’t already, now is a great time to start thinking about your next retreat. Maybe your parish has never done a retreat and you have been considering having your first one, or maybe your parish has done tons of retreats in the past. Whichever the case, here are a few tips that can help you to have a successful retreat.
1. Plan in Advance
Start planning now for the fall so that this can be a great experience for your young people. Of course there are tons of details that need to be taken care of such as finding a weekend that is not a busy week for your teens (good luck with that), reserving a camp or facility, transportation, food, budget, etc. These things are all important and deserve attention to detail.
2. Get Good Musicians
Make sure you have musicians booked for your retreat. Hopefully you can have the same person or group who leads your youth Liturgy providing the music on your retreat so that there is consistency in the music that the teens will be singing on retreat.
Encourage your musicians to not just play the music, but also to spend time with the teens and participate in some of the activities throughout the retreat. That way it’s not just some guy or girl up there singing or playing music, but now they know the musicians by name and begin to feel more comfortable with them. Remember, youth ministry is about relationships.
3. Pick A Good Theme Song
A great song can really bring a retreat together. Hopefully, the song ties into the theme of the retreat and your musicians use it a lot throughout the weekend. When picking a theme song, be sure that it’s a song that can be used for Liturgy so that, when returning to the parish for Mass, the teens can sing it together at the end of Mass and it can become a part of the Liturgical repertoire, bringing back memories of the retreat which will hopefully be a meaningful and moving spiritual experience for them.
Teaching some new music to the teens on retreat that will become part of your repertoire is also a great way to get teens singing both on the retreat and at the Masses when they come back down off the mountain. It’s also great if you can pick a theme song that is available on iTunes. Your teens may not even realize that a lot of the music we sing is available to download. Having the music accessible to them all the time is a great way to keep the fire burning.
4. Follow-up and Follow-Through
One of the most disappointing things that can happen after retreat is that the teens lose the fire when they return to their every day lives. Often times after teens get back into their routines, they may begin to doubt the experience of God they had or are not yet strong enough to deal with the realties of life. This is natural but with good follow-up we can help keep the fire burning inside of them.
Maybe you met a teen on retreat that has a musical talent or you think they may be good in a Liturgical Ministry; get them involved as quickly as you can. On the Sunday(s) following the retreat try to bring back the theme song from the retreat as well as some of the other music that the teens sang well on retreat that is appropriate for Liturgy and encourage them to sing at the Mass. If they had a bad week, the Mass is the place where God’s grace overflows and they can be filled again with His Spirit, mercy, and love.
Our young people need God. My prayer is that we all go the extra mile and be true servants of Jesus as we strive to set the environment for our young people to encounter Him. May we be His instruments of praise and thanksgiving.