There’s so much that goes into planning a retreat, whether it’s for your whole church family, your youth group, or any other group. We’ve broken down all the planning advice we have in hopes of making your life easier when you’re planning your retreat.
Before the retreat
Narrow down the season
The time of year you decide to have your retreat can play into the theme. For example, if you want to have a getaway in the early spring, you can tie it in with Lent or Easter itself.
Pick a date
You might also want to consider major holidays and people’s schedules when deciding on a date for this getaway. It would be great to have a retreat around the Season of Advent, but people are most likely not going to attend during the Christmas season.
Start advertising early
After you pick a date, start telling people in your congregation about it! You might not be able to give them every detail yet, but telling people when the retreat will be as soon as possible yields the best attendance.
Find a venue
Find information about sites you like near your church. Details you should ask about are lodging, meeting space, cost, activities, food, staff, and available dates. Space like this fills up fast, so we recommend finding a venue and booking it as soon as you can.
Think about what your congregation needs to hear
Consider who the audience is and what this group needs to focus on in their spiritual lives. If you can’t decide what the theme should be, ask your fellow ministers for input.
Talk to co-teachers
If you want other people to teach or other ministers to speak during this weekend, communicate with them ahead of time. They’ll provide insight into possible themes and what they feel comfortable teaching.
Decide on a theme
Whether you want to focus on one verse or a general idea, having a focused topic will help connect all the lessons, speakers, and breakout sessions. This will also give the teachers time to plan around the theme and provide a through-line for the whole weekend.
Consider key take-aways
Remember that if people are giving up their weekend, they want clear take-aways from this retreat.
Think about the activities to teaching ratio
We recommend having a mix of activity to in-depth teaching. People won’t want to sit in one place all day, hearing one person speak. Change it up. Go on a prayer walk, hear from different people, play a game that ties back to the theme of your weekend. The most successful retreats are combination of relaxing, renewal, and reconnecting.
Put together your resources
Make a list of the resources you need for the whole weekend. This list may include things like Bibles, pens, paper, discussion questions, hymn books, etc. Make a list ahead of time and add to it as the weekend gets closer.
Build your schedule
Now that you know where your retreat will be, what the theme is, and other such details, it’s time to put everything in writing. Build your whole schedule and share it with other teachers and keynote speakers. Need help building a schedule? Connect with our retreats team to request a sample schedule!
It’s up to you whether you want to share the schedule with all the attendees beforehand, but we do suggest sharing it with everyone at some point. People will want this information, and it’s easier to give it to them early and often, so you can focus on more important things than people asking you what’s next.
During the Weekend
Plan Get-to-know-Me Games
When your attendees arrive for the weekend, everyone might not know each other. That’s okay! Why not break the ice with a few get-to-know-me games? This could be as simple as Two Truths One Lie or Who’s My Match. With people arriving at different times during the first evening, you may not want to get into teaching right away. A few quick games can help put everyone at ease and make sure every face is familiar.
If your congregation or group is large, you might consider having everyone introduce themselves at the start of the weekend. This can include those who planned the retreat as well as the ministers who will be leading the discussions.
Plan different sessions
Have a variety of sections. Relying on a keynote speaker to be the only resource at a retreat is taxing on them. Plan a variety of sessions and activities for people so they can hear the message from different speakers in different formats.
Include break-out groups
Schedule break-out times that are either for smaller groups or individuals. This allows for more in-depth discussions and people to start applying what they’ve learned to their own lives.
Have praise time
Plan to have praise time before each keynote speaker starts their lesson. This gives everyone time to find their seats, settle in, and focus before the keynote speaker begins.
Designate one person or a praise team to lead worship and select songs ahead of time. Ask that whoever is picking the songs choose ones that most people know instead of trying to teach people new songs during the retreat.
Arrange for prayer sessions
These sessions allow individuals to talk to God by themselves. You can plan topics of prayer to get people started in the right direction or let the Spirit guide them in their prayers.
Schedule free time
Some people may have to work or want a rest, so be sure to add some free time into your plan.
You might want to hire some form of entertainment for one or more of the evenings. This could be a Christian comedian, sketch group, musical performance, or anything else you think your group would enjoy.
After the retreat
Continue the discussion and relationships
Encourage people to keep in contact with each other and continue the friendships that started over the weekend.
Give practical applications
The main goal of your retreat should be to give your attendees practical applications for their everyday lives. To help your group continue their spiritual growth, have other resources ready to hand out before the end of the weekend.
Follow up with attendees
Send out an email after the retreat thanking people for coming, and encouraging them in their spiritual journey and to reach out for prayer, fellowship, or guidance.
Make notes for the next retreat
Make notes about what you’d do differently and what you want to add to your next retreat.
Make discussion topics
Make sure there aren’t any lulls in the conversation during meals with popsicle discussion jars. Write questions on popsicle sticks to put in jars around the tables where you’ll eat. These can be especially helpful if people aren’t familiar enough to make regular dinner conversation.
Create a playlist
Make a Christian music playlist that plays throughout the weekend and that you can share with everyone. This is a great way to introduce people to new music influenced by Christian artists.
Don’t keep distractions with you
Some people might insist on having them, but encourage everyone to leave their cell phones in their living spaces, especially during teaching or discussion sessions. They only serve to distract people and cause disruptions, so we don’t really see the reason for them.
Don’t be a clock watcher
Allow some flexibility in your schedule. We know that you worked very hard to make sure every minute is accounted for, but allow time for the Spirit to work. Unless there’s a time-sensitive activity, let people ask questions and continue the discussion, even after the session is over. Let the Spirit do its work. It works in its own time and doesn’t need to follow your schedule.
We hope that these ideas and suggestions make planning your next retreat a little bit easier.
Tell us your ideas and connect with us to start planning your next retreat today!