I took 8 men and women from our family of Churches (Relational Mission) away to Center Parcs for 5 days of songwriting. Here's what went well and what we learnt...
Who should be there!?
I asked all the people from our family of Churches who song-write and that I have friendship with if they'd like to come on the retreat. I wanted to make it broad enough so that people just starting out in songwriting could come along but also relational enough that I'd know the people that would be there for 5 days!
Start by Worshipping Together
We began each day with someone encouraging us from scripture, lifting our eyes to Jesus and then we had a time of worship together. These were my favourite times of the retreat. It's such a delight singing with 8 passionate worship leaders in one room. A different person led us each day and we started with a couple of familiar songs but then we left time for people to sing new songs. There were some beautiful choruses that came out of these times of worship that we all sang along to and you could sense the journey that God was leading us on from initial encouragement to opening songs to scripture being shared to prayers being prayed to the songs being sung. We recorded the sessions on a phone so that we could go back and listen to some of the choruses so that we could work on them to make full songs. It's important to say that we didn't just worship to get choruses. We worshipped as this is what we were made to do and love doing. We even ended up ministering to one another and praying for one another. It was wonderful.
Have some Teaching
After our worship time we had the main chunk of the mornings for structured songwriting. I'd teach for about 10-15 minutes on why we write new songs, on melody, on content etc and then I set a challenge for us. On Tuesday the challenge was to write a simple praise song in groups of 2-3 with a time limit of 45 minutes. This was tough but most groups managed to come up with a song based on a Psalm.
Have a Purpose to Write
In the afternoon sessions we wanted to write songs for our family of Churches- Relational Mission. The two songs I wanted us to write were... 1) "Enough" As a family of Churches we have a night of prayer once a term called Enough. We wanted a song on corporate prayer- how God answers our prayers and how we need Him to move in our nation. 2) "The Call" The Call is the name of our leadership conference this May. We wanted a song to express the call of the Church to rise up and proclaim Jesus to the world around us. We ended up splitting into two teams- one team for each song. We spent the rest of the week working on these songs.
Feedback as a big Group
I think we all really liked it when we came back together to play the songs that we'd created. We'd share some encouragements about the songs and then make some suggestions too as a whole group.
Think about Gift Mix
Having people with different gifts is really key in these kinds of environments. We had a couple of people who are great with chords and arrangements, a couple of people who are real lyricists, a couple of people who had a prophetic gift and sensed where God was leading with the songs and we had a couple of us who were able to tweak the songs once they got to a certain stage. The mix of people was wonderful and no sessions seemed stagnant.
Where to have the Retreat
We chose Center Parcs in Woburn to have the retreat. It was actually pretty cheap (it only cost £100 each for accommodation for the 5 days and £50 each for the food and drink). We had two chalets next door to each other which was great for two groups to write songs separately. The surroundings- tall trees, birds, rabbits and deer was really inspiring when we were writing and the best part of Center Parcs is THE POOL AND THE RAPIDS!!!
Enjoying Time Together
We structured the days so that we'd be writing 9-4 but then from 4-7 we'd have free time. We hit the pool early evening which was great as it wasn't as busy at that time and it was really fun racing down the rapids (Jordan and I tried to hold on to each other's legs all the way down... we failed...). Then we headed back to the lodges for a late dinner. Having good food together, some wine and some games (Settlers of Catan for the win!) made the time so enjoyable. (We put the "relational" into "Relational Mission" haha...) A chap called Chris came who loves to cook and think up meal plans and he looked after us so well!
Things I learnt from the Week...
- It's good to come up with a programme (see left) but if songwriting is going amazingly well don't move on to something else. Keep working at it.
- Conversely sometimes having a break can refresh and reenergise you for a particular song you're working on.
- Know your gift mix. For me- I'm a bit of a melody man but this week I learnt that I have a real passion tweaking and finishing songs too.
- Some pairings work really well together, others don't. I wrote a praise song with a lady called Naomi in no time at all, everything just flowed! Other times when I've been writing in the past it's been like wading through treacle. Sometimes it's about inspiration and other times it's about who you're writing with.
- People write in different ways- some pace around the room, others externally process a lot. Some want to spend ages crafting a line, others want to move onto another session when nothing is coming. Learn from others and know how you write best.
- Having a theme to write for was really good. It meant real focus throughout the week.
- Relationship building is so good. I knew lots of the people on the retreat but the biggest delight was forming good friendships and going deeper with people.
The two songs we wrote during the week "Enough" and "The Call" will hopefully be ready to use at our leadership conference in May and then possibly be recorded. We've also got 9 other songs and chorus ideas from the week so it's exciting to see where these will end up! I've come away feeling refreshed and full of the love of God.
I hope this is helpful for you. If you are planning a songwriting retreat ask me a question or let me know how it goes…