The Practical and the Personal: Keeping Up With Students After a Trip or Retreat

We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: there’s perhaps nothing more gratifying than extended time away with your students on a retreat or mission trip. Coffee dates, small groups, and quick hangouts are great, but it’s hard to beat the unique bonding that can happen when both students and their youth minister are plucked from the noise of their daily lives. Trips and retreats are a rich time of inside jokes, late night conversations about God, and ample amounts of sugar and carbohydrates.

While we know the retreat “high” can’t last forever, this should not stop the youth minister from praying and thinking about how to keep the relational momentum of a trip going. A retreat or trip is but a doorway into forming deeper and richer relationships with your students as you seek to point them to Jesus. 

Consider these small, practical, yet impactful ways you can stay in touch with students after a trip or retreat. 

Embrace the Group Text 

If you’ve been in youth ministry for even a short amount of time, you’ve no doubt had a student lament to you about drama involving the dreaded group text. Who is invited in and who is left out is a big deal to high schoolers, and these group texts are often a major hub spot for bullying, gossip, and inappropriate behavior.

But after a trip, youth ministers have an opportunity to invite their students into a more redemptive way of operating in a group text chain. I’d suggest creating a group text with every student who was on the trip, along with the leaders. In this text chain you can send pictures, reminiscence on inside jokes, or send encouraging follow-up messages.*

Since it’s unlikely that a student would act inappropriately in a group message with their youth minster, your presence is a helpful buffer to prevent things from getting out of hand. It’s likely that your teenagers will create a group text of their own without you (they are teenagers, after all!), but by creating a group text, you help facilitate ongoing conversation and open the door for continued fellowship among the group— even if just digitally. 

It’s worth noting that a group text might not be the best practice for your youth ministry. Consider creating a separate group text for boys and girls or chatting with your senior pastor about your youth group cell phone policy. No matter what, ask the Lord for wisdom about what would be the safest method of communicating with your students after a retreat. 

Take Note

I recently was in the home of a family who used to be in our youth group. Buried deep on their bulletin board in the kitchen, I noticed a notecard with my handwriting on it. Curious, I investigated the card further and discovered that it was a note I had written the student after a mission trip to Memphis together. I had no recollection of writing this note, but it clearly had meant enough to this student that it ended up on their family bulletin board. 

Sending a post-trip note is perhaps one of the simplest ways you can maintain relational momentum after a trip. After all, that’s how the Apostle Paul did most of his ministry! I’d suggest that you take a group photo from the trip and make it into a notecard (this can easily be done at your local CVS). Then, write a quick note to each student about how much you enjoyed spending time with them on this trip. Ideally, include a specific antidote about the student: perhaps a conversation you enjoyed or a funny memory you shared. 

These notecards might bring a momentary smile and end up in the trash. But they also could make the teenager feel seen, loved, and valued and end up on the family bulletin board or tucked away in a Bible. Either way, a post-trip note is a simple investment that yields high rewards. 


One of my favorite ways continue the sweetness of trip bonding is to immediately plan a retreat reunion upon our return. I’d suggest you plan for about three weeks after the trip. Get the word out quickly to parents and students in order to assure them that they have something to look forward to when they inevitably fade from the trip high. 

These reunions can be simple: ask a parent to host a cookout, meet up at a local pizza place, or host a movie night in the youth room. No matter the place, a reunion allows for students to continue to build relationships with one another, and you with them. Perhaps create a slide show of pictures from the trip or have everyone share a favorite memory— anything that reinforces a sense of community and fellowship among the group. 

Of course, we don’t want to make those who didn’t come on the trip feel excluded, so make sure these don’t become a habitual part of your youth group. If they do, simply expand the invitation to other youth group members and allow others to share about their experience with them. 

 Individually Follow-up 

One of my favorite trip memories happened on a hike during a mountain retreat weekend. I had gladly volunteered to bring up the rear on our hike, so I ended up walking alongside a student who enjoyed the same leisurely pace. As we walked up the mountain together, she shared intimate details about some family turmoil she had experienced this past year. It was a rich time of listening, processing, and lamenting alongside her. When we got back home, I knew I couldn’t leave that conversation on the mountain. We began to meet regularly, which provided an opportunity for deeper discipleship and friendship. 

If you get the privilege of connecting with a student on a retreat, make every effort to follow up with them individually. Even if you don’t get a golden opportunity as I had on our hike, pay attention and ask the Lord who could use some one-to-one discipleship when you return. Did a student ask a poignant question that you need to follow up about? Was the youth group chatty Cathy more quiet than usual? Did the jock and the quiet, shy student seem to form an unlikely bond? Take notice, then follow up. 

As you consider how you can further connect with your students following a trip or a retreat, we pray that you would seek Jesus and his guidance, creativity, and wisdom in how he cares for his sheep. No matter what your relational discipleship looks like, may your students experience the love of Jesus and his desire to be in close fellowship with them. 

If you’d like more information about planning missions trips, we have further resources for you on Rooted Reservoir

Rebecca serves as the Ministry Development Coordinator/Assistant Editor for Rooted. Previously, she has worked in both youth and young adult ministries. She is a graduate of Furman University (B.A.) and  Beeson Divinity School (M.T.S). Rebecca is happiest on a porch swing, in a boat, or on the dance floor.

More From This Author