How to run a Retreat

Going on a retreat with your group can help forge friendships, and give everyone space to relax, unwind and spend time with God. You could have a retreat at the beginning of term to build community or at the end of the year, to relax once exams are over.

Location, Location, Location

Consider going somewhere pretty. There are lots of retreat centres, monasteries and churches around the country who are happy to welcome groups for a weekend or a few days, and often for a very reasonable price or for a donation. You could also go to the home church of someone in your group.

A major part of any retreat can be simply the chance to get away. International students, in particular, may welcome the opportunity to see a different part of the country.

If you are in a monastery, you may have the chance to join in with their daily round of prayers and services. If you are staying in a church over the weekend, they may like you to join in and contribute to their Sunday morning service.

If you don’t have the budget or time to go away, don’t worry! A retreat where you are can work just as well, especially since many students don’t take the time to go and see sights that are just on their doorstep, and even a single day can give people a break. See below for ideas for quiet days and retreats in daily life.


Don’t overplan. A retreat is a time to relax, wind down, and take some time out to reflect. It doesn’t need to be filled with activities. A simple programme of meals, prayers and free time will work well.

If it’s going to be a silent retreat or there are going to be prolonged periods of silence then ease people into this by beginning with a short talk about silence or different forms of prayer. Take some resources with you like books, Bibles, poetry, art materials, pens and paper so that people can use the time in the way most helpful for them.

Building Community

Cooking and eating together, as well as other joint activities like walks, can be an important part of getting to know each other and building community, which will then make your group closer when you go home.


You don’t have to do everything yourself. Getting people involved by asking them to run a Bible study, or be in charge of the cooking, encourages them to commit to the retreat and invest in it.

Suggested Activities

  • Have a theme. This could be a chapter from the Bible, or a verse, or a favourite poem, or simply a word like ‘life’, ‘hope’, ‘joy’, ‘water’. Be creative. Your activities can then all be based round that theme.
  • Go for a walk. Time for fresh air, exercise, talk and reflection. Consider organising a prayer walk. This is where you choose prayers or readings for specific points in the walk, which people can then reflect on as they walk from point to point.
  • Fun time. Outdoor games, or board games if it’s raining. Silly games and get-to-know-you games.
  • Spiritual stuff. This can give some structure to your retreat. You could have morning and evening prayer every day, for example. Other spiritual activities you could consider are: Bible study, workshops, worship, a sunrise service, lectio divina, meditation, a time of silence, bring-and-share prayer.

Quiet Days

See if you can find somewhere nearby where you can hold a quiet day. This might be a retreat centre but it could also be a church or house. It’s good if it can be somewhere with different rooms, spaces and places to walk outside. Go as a group and simply spend time in silence together or with a few activities like prayer, meditation or creative workshops. Many of the points above will also be relevant for quiet days.

Retreat in Daily Life

If people can’t get away for a quiet day or weekend then why not try a retreat in daily life? This is sometimes known as accompanied prayer. Each person taking part in the retreat (which could last between a week and a month) makes a commitment to daily prayer and individual meetings with a prayer guide or spiritual director.

You carry on with your day to day life as normal, but with time set aside for prayer and reflection. All the people on the retreat may come together at the beginning or ending of the time period to share their expectations and experiences. Talk to your chaplain if this kind of retreat interests you.

More Resources

  • Retreat Association -  The Retreat Association website is an excellent place to start. It has links to retreat centres around the country and free downloadable resources on topics like Individually-guided retreats, Contemplative retreats and Theme retreats.
  • Group Accomodation - This website is good for finding somewhere for a weekend away – you can search by area, date and number of beds. Watch out for the prices because they range from budget log cabins to very expensive holiday cottages!
  • Christian Residential Venues - A list of Christian residential centres and a free venue finding service – just fill in the form with what you need and the relevant places will email you back.
  • Soul Space: making a retreat in the Christian tradition by Margaret Silf (SPCK 2002)
  • Creative Retreat Ideas: Resources for Short, Whole Day and Weekend Spiritual Breaks by Sue Pickering (Canterbury Press Norwich 2010)
  • Making the Sign of the Cross: A Creative Resource for Seasonal Worship, Retreats and Quiet Days by Janet Hodgson (Canterbury Press Norwich 2010)

Further help

If you’d like help with planning a retreat or ideas for resources, or you want to plan a regional retreat with another SCM group then please get in touch with the SCM office.

Resource type: 
How To Guide
Resource theme: 
Running a Group
Student Life
Chaplaincy Resources
Encountering God