The man cave is being remodeled.
Men's retreats connected with the Florida Conference have been held for 69 years in Leesburg. But attendance has declined, said John Delaney of North Port, a member of Edgewater United Methodist Church in Port Charlotte and president of Florida Conference United Methodist Men.
|This year's men's retreat, held at the Life Enrichment Center on Oct. 13-14, included a 26 percent increase over the previous year's gathering. Many were attending a church-sponsored, weekend retreat for the first time.|
The old retreat model resulted in attendees hearing some of the same speakers year after year for decades. Spiritual growth is a challenge when “there's no change,” Delaney said.
Sensing the decline in interest, retreat organizers knew they needed to take a different approach to connect with male church members of all ages. The result was the Man Cave Renovation Retreat held Oct. 13-14 at the Life Enrichment Center near the Warren Willis Camp in Fruitland Park.
The new approach worked. Attendance was up 26 percent over last year, from 120 to 152. Men came from as far away as Miami. Some 70 percent of participants were attending a church-sponsored, weekend retreat for the first time.
“Not only did we have an increase, but we had a huge increase of men that had never been to a weekend getaway,” Delaney said. “The model that they used to run with was kind of stuffy. They did the same thing for years and years. What we wanted to do was get back to the basics of having men be disciples for Christ and also to hear the Word with other men.
“We accomplished that with the messages we had.”
Jim Boesch, a Florida Conference men’s ministry trainer from Oviedo, who helped coordinate the retreat, agrees.
“It was an empowering weekend built on having men take a look at their lives, where they currently are, and challenging them to live into the influencing life God is calling them to as followers of Jesus,” Boesch said.
The lead speaker was the Rev. Michael T. Hudson of Christ United Methodist Church in Venice. One theme was the caves of Elijah, David and Jesus.
“We talked about a renovation of our man caves,” Delaney said, adding that we live in a society where having a cool bass boat or an awesome man cave is prioritized.
“What are we going to do to renovate the caves in our lives that allow us to glorify God more?” Delaney said.
One of the organizers' primary goals was to reach young male attendees. “If we don't reach younger men, the church is going to die,” Delaney said, “and the ministry is going to die.”
To reach younger men, they did some things for the first time, such as incorporating upbeat music and messages. Breakout sessions focused on how to grow men's ministry in local churches. Delaney led a session on how the internet is affecting young men through pornography.
The weekend kicked off a three-year plan to bring the annual retreat back to prosperity. But organizers are not resting on one outing per year. They plan to do three additional events throughout the year, rotating around the state, called “Igniting Men” conferences. These single-day “leadership training and equipping” events will be designed to help men serve their pastors better. The first Igniting Men conference will be held Feb. 10 at Mandarin UMC in Jacksonville.
“The idea behind that is for men to address issues that they are dealing with and to reach the next generation of men through mentoring,” Delaney said.
|Music and words offered inspiration as the sun began to rise over Lake Griffin at Warren Willis Camp. Sunrise and sunset services were held during the weekend.|
“We have a boy problem in our country. Boys are not being mentored, and there are too many fatherless boys. If dads are not going to be around, there need to be some men who are willing to step up.”
There were eight teenagers at the retreat. The youngest participant was 13. Seth Seidner, 19, of St. Johns, Florida, and Mandarin UMC, attended with his father, Bruce.
Bruce Seidner saw firsthand how the retreat impacted Seth, and how Seth impacted the retreat. Bruce said he knew Seth would be personable and engaging. But afterward, he was more than impressed by his son's contributions.
"I was honored to have Seth invited to participate," Bruce said. "At the beginning of the event, as Seth was introducing the speakers, I felt a warm, proud feeling. He came off so professional. I was in awe for a few moments.”
Spending the weekend with his dad “was a great experience," Seth said. "This weekend took a ton of planning, prayer and thought to make it an impactful men’s retreat.”
Michael Maxwell, of Mandarin UMC and another retreat organizer, said it was “fantastic to see the younger men fully engage with men of all ages and seeing the mentoring process in small groups, and seeing the teenagers completely connect with an older generation.”
The next annual retreat will be in Leesburg Oct. 19-20 of next year. Another tweak of the name may be in order.
“We're not just a once-a-year retreat ministry,” Maxwell said, adding that the word “retreat” sounds like they are going backward.
“We're calling it an expedition,” he said.
--Ed Scott is a freelance writer based in Venice.
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