This is a guest post by Eddie Chung, who has been co-leading a small group in our church for several years.
This year, as we did last year, we had a summer weekend retreat for our small group. I love having these retreats. Nothing accelerates relational development quite like these extended getaways. They bear fruit for a long time thereafter as our whole small group seems to operate off of this advanced jump off point throughout the year as we share, pray and welcome others into our group.
For newcomers, this experience is especially pronounced. Last year we had a newcomer to our small group that was still feeling his way around. During the retreat we had a time of sharing briefly about our life journeys and we learned about how this brother became Christian, the role of his family in his life, and some of the values that define him. When small group started a month later, he wasn't still feeling his way around, but treated himself (as did we) like a core member of the group who was making the group happen and not just there to observe.
Even among the small group core, these retreats do so much to help us feel comfortable with each other. So much of our experience of each other can be relatively superficial (why is X always so late, how come J talks so little during small group etc.) but there are things that I discover about them in the course of long drives or intentional q+a times that I am not sure I would have ever learned about otherwise.
There's a lot to planning these trips, but I would actually say that the effort/reward ratio is actually among the highest of the things we do to lead the group. Below I've included some tips about how you can plan your own small group trip next summer or even sometime this fall or spring:
1) If you are planning a summer trip, send out a doodle early (preferably April) and book a place as soon as possible. Summer weekends fill up fast and as much as possible, you want everyone to make it to the trip. The more popular vacation homes fill up soon, but more importantly you want the other small group members to protect that weekend and look forward to it. I would also highly highly recommend sharing one home together.
2) Divide the responsibilities. There's a number of things to arrange (looking for housing, planning meals and shopping, planning fun activities, planning spiritual activities, arranging rides, managing finances, etc.) but it's manageable if divided up among the trip participants.
3) Plan the bonding/get to know each other activities w/ more care. The small group retreat will still be great if food and games go awry, but creating space for bonding and also developing more intentional bonding activities are what really make these trips memorable. Some of the things our small group has done include passenger rotation on the long drives, pre-arranged get to know each other questions for the drives, evening show and tell times where each member shows/demonstrates something significant from their lives, sharing pictures and life journeys time, etc.
4) I have a number of spreadsheets related to our trips that may be of assistance too.