In the last post we talked about thoughtfully adding “white space” to the schedule of your retreat, in order to encourage and allow attendees a more holistic experience. Today I am going to talk through a variation on that – it is not true “white space” but it is the opposite of a “content dump.”
At Sandy Cove we call it spaghetti time, based on the old cooking adage that you know your spaghetti is done when you throw it against the wall and it sticks. The “sticks” part is what we are interested in. We like to schedule spaghetti time after a message, as an encouragement to not just agree and rush off to the next thing – but to actually process what I just heard and look for what specific application it has for me.
My background is in experiential education, using activities – especially outdoor activities like backpacking, ropes courses, rock climbing, etc. – as tools for learning. There are a variety of philosophies on how to best facilitate these tools. One approach says “let the mountains speak for themselves,” meaning that just being out there and doing the activity is immersive enough for the participant to get what they need out of it. The other side of the continuum is an experience where the facilitator is constantly coaxing the participant to process what they did, are doing, or are about to do. (And has probably launched a hundred memes of facilitators imploring “How do you feel now??” every time a 5th grader moves 3 feet along a log…) But somewhere in the middle of that is a happy medium where people are invited to grow, and it generally is going to involve reflection.
I think we can agree that learning these days is not limited by lack of messages. Anyone with a smartphone can quickly pull up enough podcasts, sermons, and TED talks to fill a lifelong play list. But the thing that is harder to come by in our hurried society is time to reflect and process, which is exactly what a retreat offers ideally.
Practically, we just ask our speakers to come up with a handful of questions that go along with each of their messages, and print them up. We add spaghetti time to the schedule, frame up the experience, hand out questions and encourage people to use that time well. That looks different depending on what program it is – could be just couples in conversation, individuals journaling, or groups discussing. For our men's and women's weekends, we assign each church group their own room or space to meet for spaghetti time. You would be amazed to see a group of 20 guys grab plates of chicken wings, disappear into a room for an hour together, and then report that is was the most significant part of their weekend.
So whether you buy into Kolb's Learning Cycle or Bloom's Taxonomy, James was way ahead of them when he said that just hearing the word was not enough. You can call it whatever you want, but spaghetti time can help take a step toward being a doer of the word. And remember, it's not done until it sticks!