It takes something startling to effect quick change in a person. Something out of the ordinary, like walking blindfolded on snowshoes, riding a 1,500-pound horse or learning to install shingle siding can help start that change.
Specialized organizations, known as team-building facilitators, create atypical experiences that disconnect you from your comfort zone in order to gain new perspective on your life and relationships. Church groups seeking a retreat that builds leadership, teamwork and a sense of community can visit these facilitators across the country for that ideal combination of a new experience, education and fun.
But you don’t have to choose the typical high ropes course for your next retreat, since most outdoor activities can double as a team-building experience. For something more unusual, think outside the box for an exciting experience your church group can brag about.
Snowshoeing, horse vaulting, camping, volunteering and dog sledding are all compelling activities with potential for group growth. Choose shared experiences like these to inspire your group to gain better communication skills and develop strong bonds.
[ Tahoe Vista, California ]
Your church group can take its first steps toward improved team dynamics on snowshoes with the Tahoe Adventure Company. The company’s guided snowshoe tours teach groups team-building skills, with glorious, snowy landscapes of Lake Tahoe in the background.
“Snowshoeing is a multifaceted winter activity that is great for team building,” said Kevin Hickey, owner and director of Tahoe Adventure Company. “You first have to learn the skill of snowshoeing and then incorporate that into facilitated challenges, all while in a beautiful environment.”
The Tahoe Adventure Company customizes the route, meals and distance of the snowshoe tours to fit the group. While walking through the woods, facilitators talk about the surrounding natural history. Groups also stop at three to six locations for various challenges or initiatives.
One challenge breaks groups into two-person teams, in which one member wears a blindfold and the other one serves as a guide through an obstacle course. This unusual challenge encourages teamwork.
“We help open communication and break down cliques that sometimes occur,” said Hickey. “We have people working together in a nontraditional way outside their normal social environment.”
Winter groups also enjoy the Tahoe Adventure Company’s geocaching team-building challenge that divides groups into teams to look for hidden “caches.” Each cache holds a challenge the team has to complete to win.
During the summer, the Tahoe Adventure Company also incorporates team-building focuses into kayaking, biking, high ropes courses, orienteering and hiking trips.
[ Versailles, Kentucky ]
A 1,500-pound horse will instantly grab the attention of any group. Especially when group members learn they will take turns trying equestrian vaulting, a discipline often described as gymnastics on horseback.
“The good thing about vaulting is that 99 percent of people have never done it before,” said Kara Musgrave, equine manager for the Life Adventure Center. “It is a great way to get everyone on the same level to help build confidence and a sense of team.”
Church groups that opt for that memorable form of team building practice several gymnastic moves on the vaulting barrel before riding the horse. Participants assist each other on and off the barrel, and later help their team members climb on and off the horse. Group members then encourage each other as they try different moves on the horse.
“You use the lessons learned during vaulting in a debriefing process that is taking the experience and turning it into a metaphor that applies to people’s real lives,” said Tim Magill, executive director. “After the activity, we talk about what happened in the experience and how that applies back to the group’s church or family.”
The well-trained horse stays under the control of a staff member at all times. The experience can last from two to four hours, depending on the group size.
For a longer experience, some groups choose a full-day or overnight experience with the center’s horses, which incorporates ground initiatives and horseback riding. Others choose to include the center’s ropes course, which features a climbing wall, a zip line and a giant swing.
[ Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin ]
Figuring out how poles and fabric fit together to make a shelter for the night can seem difficult for a first-timer. Church youth groups have to learn to work together to set up their tents as an initial challenge during a camping retreat with the DC Adventure Center.
Located in Wisconsin’s scenic Door County, the adventure company believes that outdoor adventure and faith go hand in hand.
“We have a lot of messages that really align with Christianity: personal responsibility, accountability, trust and respect,” said Moira Farrell, adventure facilitator for the DC Adventure Center. “During camping retreats, the youth hike and do some kayaking, but it’s the same message as the high ropes course.”
Though group leaders can customize each youth retreat, most groups start their camping retreat with the DC Adventure Center’s low and high ropes course. Then after the youth have set up their tents, they spend the evening eating a campfire meal, completing challenges and hiking in the dark. Facilitators will lead a fireside conversation, which is often coordinated with the pastor or youth coordinator to make the message fit the group.
The next day, the real adventure begins as participants kayak through an estuary where 200 species of birds fly through annually. Facilitators also lead a Faith Hike during which participants are asked questions that encourage reflection.
Building a House
[ Yarmouthport, Massachusetts ]
What better way for a church group to learn team-building skills than by putting their faith in action? Across the country, faith communities can help build affordable houses for families in need through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity.
Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, has worked with church groups and other volunteers to build 81 homes over the past 25 years. Most local faith communities volunteer with the nonprofit on weekend Group Build days. For traveling groups, the organization offers Team Build days, where groups donate approximately $100 per participant.
Groups often hold fundraisers to send the group. Participants receive Habitat for Humanity T-shirts, on-site lunch, photos and a day to learn new skills together.
“Groups on these builds get to know each other on a different level than they normally would,” said Wendy Cullinan, director of resource development for Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod. “You have the opportunity to have conversations for longer periods of time. They have an entire day to share their stories and interests.”
Frequently, the family that will live in the home comes to help build with the group. Typically, groups might spend the day building walls, setting trusses, shingling, hanging drywall, painting and landscaping.
[ Granby, Colorado ]
Greet nature on a sled being pulled by energetic dogs at Snow Mountain Ranch. The faith-based program combines a presentation by the site’s chaplain with an exhilarating dogsled ride on various trails across part of the ranch’s 5,000 acres.
The chaplain that runs the team-building program once raced as a long-distance dogsled musher, so he can explain dogsledding basics before the group hops on the sleds. The subject of the talk can be customized to fit your church group’s age and purpose.
“Guests are more than welcome to socialize with the dogs before and after the sledding trip,” said Martha Sortland, associate director of marketing for the YMCA of the Rockies, which operates Snow Mountain Ranch. “The dogs are extremely social and friendly with humans. People really enjoy that part of the experience.”
Trained mushers guide the sleds, which can fit two to three people. Some sleds allow participants to help steer for an added challenge. You can extend the two- to three-mile dogsled ride into a daylong outdoor package that includes snowshoeing, a session on how to build a snow hut and hot chocolate.
The site welcomes numerous church groups each year because of its religious offerings, such as its daily devotionals, guided devotional hikes and outdoor chapel, as well as its lodging accommodations. On-site summer activities include horseback riding, hiking, biking, canoeing and a high ropes course.
For extended stays, groups can create travel packages that include meal plans.