It’s time to redesign the men’s retreat

It’s time to redesign the men’s retreat May 26, 2015

Alone on DockFifty years ago almost every church sponsored an annual men’s retreat. About half the men in the church would gather at a wilderness camp for a weekend of light recreation, heavy foods, loud singing and fresh Bible teaching from a guest speaker brought in for the occasion.

But in recent years, men’s retreats have become less common. Those churches that still offer them have seen attendance dwindle. It’s hard to get the younger generation of men to attend.

The problem with the typical men’s retreat is been-there-done-that. It’s basically an extended church service with games and grub sprinkled in. We follow the same script as Sunday morning – sing songs and listen to a speaker – only we do a lot more of it. Why give up your entire weekend and pay $125 when you can just go to church on Sunday and get the same experience for free?

It’s time to re-design the men’s retreat. If it’s just a marathon church service with some intramural basketball, men won’t come. If you’re asking men to give up a weekend you’d better offer a mind-blowing experience that’s different than what they already get at church.

In brainstorming a new kind of men’s retreat, I’d set the following goals:

  1. Honoring to God
  2. Designed around the learning style of guys
  3. Different from church
  4. Masculine without being macho
  5. Builds relationships that last beyond the weekend

A few years ago, I began working on #2: I rebuilt my entire presentation around the learning style of guys.

I used to teach like everyone else: talk for 40 minutes, and then give the guys an opportunity to discuss. But it wasn’t working. Despite my best efforts, men’s eyes started drooping after about 20 minutes. During discussion, men often had a hard time recalling what I had taught them.

I began to realize the problem wasn’t so much the content – it was the format in which I was delivering it.

So I redesigned my men’s retreat talks around a 10-10 format. I speak for 10 minutes, and then I give the guys 10 minutes to answer questions in small groups. The questions come straight out of the 10-minute talk I just delivered, so it’s fresh in their minds.

The change has been remarkable. Guys are more engaged. They have more opportunities to talk and build friendships around the table. Instead of me dispensing the truth, they discover the truth for themselves. Nobody falls asleep.

My presentation is completely screen-driven. I use lots of visuals, because guys remember what they see. I also use a fair amount of humor and do some unexpected things (like throwing furniture and splashing guys with water) to keep them interested. (To learn more about my retreat, click here).

After every retreat someone approaches me and says something like, “That was the best men’s retreat we’ve ever had.” Or, “I’ve never gotten so much from a men’s retreat.” Honestly, it’s not because I’m some great teacher – it’s because I’ve begun delivering my content the way the male brain learns.

These teaching methods are working well, but now I’m feeling the need to overhaul the rest of the retreat process. How can we design an immersive weekend experience that’s transformative to men? And is there a way we can organize the men so they form relationships that last beyond the weekend? Honestly, that should be the goal of every men’s retreat – that every guy goes home having made a new friend he can walk with for the rest of his life.

As we brainstorm, let’s look to the example of Jesus. He took his men on a three-year retreat – putting them through a series of ordeals, telling them mysterious stories (parables) and teaching them to do amazing things. He was very intentional in how he structured them – an inner circle of three, a team of twelve, and pairs sent out to minister.

Recognizing that a retreat is not a mission trip, how can we model some of these things over a weekend retreat? Maybe we break the men into pairs or triads and give them some problems to work on or some puzzles to solve? Maybe we divide the guys into four large teams and build the entire weekend around a “house” competition. Or what if we put men through a series of ordeals instead of sitting them down for a series of lectures?

I’d welcome your feedback and ideas.

Have you been to a men’s retreat lately? What worked and what didn’t? Are there alternative ways to help men connect with the Lord, besides listening to a speaker and singing worship choruses? How can we use the recreation times to greater effect? What do you enjoy doing when you’re with other Christian guys?

Author’s note: since I wrote this post I’ve done some research and gotten lots of good feedback. I wrote a three part series about a new kind of men’s retreat. You can read part one by clicking here.


David MurrowDavid Murrow is the author of the bestselling book, Why Men Hate Going to Church. David’s books have sold more than 175,000 copies in 12 languages. He speaks to groups around the world about Christianity’s persistent gender gap. He lives in Alaska with his wife of more than 30 years, professional silk artist Gina Murrow. Learn more about David at his Web site,, or join the conversation on his Facebook page, Don’t forget to share this page by clicking on the links below, or scroll down and leave a comment (right below those annoying ads that pay for this blog). 




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