Before I tell you why, here’s our story:
Two years ago while on Sabbatical, Ben attended a FOCUS retreat of HTB. He witnessed just a few days, but he saw the church in the city venture to the countryside for a week together of worship, encouragement, rest, and recreation. Ben began to pray about doing something similar with our church. He shared the vision with our team. The vision and prayer were now in the making! We would do this in May on the weekend of Bay to Breakers (an “athletic event” in the city that runs from the Bay to the breaking of the ocean waves in the Pacific where clothing is optional, but one cannot run intoxicated) This weekend always affects getting downtown to Epic anyway - so let’s head to the redwoods! We secured the location, speaker, and worship leader. Our Kids director wrote a full curriculum and our team executed the most excellent, well-run weekend ever, full of games, personal tote bags for every camper, and marketing/storytelling that wowed us all.
Even a week prior to our first FOCUS, Ben and I were talking with a pastor in London. He said, “you’ll see things happen in a weekend away that would take 5 years to come together from one Sunday to the next.” We shook our heads believing he was telling the truth. We just didn’t know how good it would be!
So here’s why the Church needs a retreat:
We get away to gain perspective, to get rest. If we need personal time away, doesn’t the Church need time away? That’s what a retreat does for us collectively. I think some of us could have turned around and headed back Friday evening, our souls were full already and we’d only be away for a few hours! So imagine 48 hours away! We live streamed our Sunday service for those who couldn’t make it, but being present on Sunday in the redwoods was the most joy-filled moment I’ve had with this church community. I attribute this to the rest and perspective the Holy Spirit gifted each of us on glorious display during worship that morning.
Conversations continue. On a typical Sunday, conversations are surface at best as you walk past this person and that person and share the common phrases, “Hi. How are you?” “Fine, thanks. And you?” “We’re good.” The retreat center had no cell service, so we all got to engage with one another. Other than our kids needing this or that, we had unending conversations with new and old friends. We could chat about the Warriors or Pokemon or photography or knitting or dinosaurs. I got to talk to Mike a little longer over the weekend and we both have Albany, Georgia connections.
Community deepens. How can it not? With this weekend saturated in prayer (mostly for God to send sunshine and not rain…oh well…not our will, but His!) we invited the Holy Spirit to come and dwell among us. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17) and His freedom unlocked joy, laughter, empathy, and ‘me too’ moments. Time seemed to slow down, allowing our roots to interlock, creating something beautiful and miraculous really. Our boys played basketball with their peers and their dad’s peers! Kavita had much needed girl time with her friends. The dining room was the most beautiful sight. A precious lady was holding a baby so the mom and dad could eat their warm food. This amazing gentleman was bringing coffee up to the production team.
Connections happen. This was fun to step back and watch and, at times, be the connector! I chatted with Pam and Lamar at the campfire and in my peripheral I see Carla and knew all three of them work for the same company. They hadn’t met and I got to make the introduction. I said hello to a couple and kept walking and made myself stop. (Self talk: Shauna, you don’t know their names. Push through the awkward and introduce yourself.) I went back and did ‘awkward’ really well. We made the introductions and I’m so glad. They are very new to the city and to our church and now that I know more about them, I could introduce them to other young married couples. When retreating, there’s time to connect on a much deeper, and more meaningful level.
It’s easier done than said. I think talking about it and never taking the plunge is harder. Go for it! With the resources you have, take them and invest in the health of your local church. Start with a day retreat over in the next town or host an overnight stay at a conference center in the city. Use what you’ve got and be all in! Focus 2020 will look different and better than this year. (though in my opinion, our team set the bar high!) The 430 of us who went away are all ready for May 2020 and Focus won’t need any more advertising from the pastor with the vision 2 years ago - we’ve got preschoolers, teenagers, young adults, families and empty nesters sharing their stories.
We are spread out all over the city today, but more rooted, more linked than ever before. The London pastor was right. I believe more people will be in small groups because of FOCUS. People who have snuck in and snuck out on Sundays, have a reason or two to stick around now! Weekend plans have changed because people have new friends to hang out with!
Need more? Take a look!
The talks from Focus 2019 can be found at www.epicsf.com/media.