So as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, "God gives the growth." But there are also some human factors in this growth. Think of them as tools that God uses to do his work.
One of those tools is a dedicated core group of men who see the value in this annual retreat and push for it each year. Some of these are guys who experienced that first retreat years ago and got hooked. Others have been pulled in along the way. These are guys who meet time and again to plan, to strategize, to pray. They talk about this weekend with their friends and acquaintances. They pass out business cards with information about the Guys' Getaway and recruit other guys to come. This retreat has buy-in and up-front endorsement from the pastors, but it also has a dedicated team of unpaid leaders who will tell you what a great event this is, and why you should be there.
Another factor is a comfortable but rugged facility. Timber Bay is a camp that mostly serves at-risk youth. It's near Mille Lacs Lake, about an hour north of Central. The accommodations are comfortable, but you won't find any floral print curtains or lace tablecloths. Log buildings, comfortable overstuffed furniture, pool and ping-pong tables, a massive stone fireplace and an antler chandelier make this a place that feels comfortable for guys. Too often churches expect men to fit into feminine surroundings, and we turn a lot of guys off before they ever hear a speaker or think about our topics. The decor tells them, "I don't belong here."
Most of the guys going on this retreat have a personal connection to one or more of the speakers. Instead of bringing in a big name from outside the church, we've split up the keynote sessions between four recognized leaders at Central. That personal connection can be the tipping factor that convinces a man to consider coming to the retreat. It also lets these guys have a sense of trust. They're not going to get guilt-tripped or beat up, spiritually speaking. It's hard enough to take a chance going away on a church retreat without worrying about what the speaker is going to make me suffer through.
Timing is another critical factor. Through a little trial and error we've found that late March works for a lot of guys. Ice fishing is winding down. Spring activities haven't taken off. There aren't any hunting seasons open at the moment. A few guys still struggle to make the timing work, but for many men this is a relatively low-demand season.
A generous team has made it possible for guys who can't afford this event to attend. Between donations and fundraisers, we've tried hard to make money a non-issue. This has removed a huge obstacle that would have kept several men from attending.
Finally, we've got buy-in from many wives. A woman often yearns for her husband to do something rugged and healthy and strong and spiritually healthy with other guys. She watches him get beat up at work (or worse yet, beat up being out of work) and she knows he needs time to get re-energized. I've heard a number of stories of wives who have helped cover responsibilities around home so their husbands can go on this retreat.
There are lots of reasons I'm looking forward to this weekend. One is that it's just plain fun to be part of a ministry that God is growing! If you're not at Timber Bay this weekend, pray for the guys who attend. Pray that the Holy Spirit would find a way to grow these guys closer to Jesus. Pray for good conversations, good food (never a problem at Timber Bay but this is really important on a guys' retreat!), and good fun.
It will be fun to see what happens next year, and the year after that!