The more time you invest in advance planning, the more efficiently you will maximize opportunities for God to provide spiritual rest and renewal. Sometimes less really can be more!
“5 Reasons Why Modern Life Causes Stress (and what to do about it)”
“Are You Too Busy? 5 Signs of Chronic Stress”
“8 Ways to Slow Down and De-Stress Your Busy Life”
With actual headlines like these, retreat planners should have an abundance of participants desperate to get away and recharge their spiritual batteries. Yet, sadly, with headlines like these, that very demon of busyness has impacted retreat ministry. As much as potential participants may crave the idea of time away from home, from work, from relationships, from finances – those very things often make them hesitant and indecisive about signing up for a retreat.
Veteran retreat speaker and author Jane Rubietta confirms this trend saying, “I’m seeing that financially and convenience-wise, the less time required to be away, the more likely they are to come.”
What this means for the retreat planner is that you have to be strategic and plan purposefully to do more with less – less time, less money, fewer participants, shorter attention spans. But take heart. The more time you invest in advance planning, the more efficiently you will maximize opportunities for God to provide spiritual rest and renewal. Sometimes less really can be more!
Know Your Purpose
A retreat is a going away time, a making space in your life for God time. More specifically, a retreat is designed to model God’s concept of Sabbath. God created the world and included time to rest, but the busyness in our lives has pushed us far away from that divine gift of rest and renewal. God also created us to be in community, and a well-planned group retreat intentionally provides connection points to build and strengthen relationships. With opportunities to understand others’ joys, struggles and faith journeys, the friendships formed on retreat can carry people through the bumpy parts of life when they return home. Planning with purpose lets God direct the steps for personal spiritual growth and person-to-person relational growth.
Plan for Maximum Impact
Even if your group’s finances or schedules limit your location to one night at a retreat center less than an hour away, make that reservation. Get people away from the familiar and into a space where they can truly retreat from everyday life, if only for 24 hours.
“Anything that retreat planners can do to build community is good,” Rubietta shares. “You need time for your group to have interactions with people on a deep level, but you also need space for your soul to breathe.”
As you plan your time away, consider these program elements:
• Content (from a professional speaker, a retreat planning team member or participant or a video series segment), organized into
multiple 45-minute sessions instead of one- to two-hour sessions
Need to Know Tip: Remember that your participants will engage through various learning styles: visual, auditory, kinesthetic. You won’t be able to integrate each style into every presentation, but be intentional about adapting your content delivery methods to maximize impact.
• Small-group time to process this content and discuss possible applications to real life
Need to Know Tip: Pre-assign group leaders who will facilitate the discussion groups. These leaders should also be comfortable encouraging participants to share, as well as answering first if no one volunteers and gently redirecting the non-stop talkers.
• Journaling time for self-reflection and personal applications
Need to Know Tip: Providing a few short writing prompts, as well as an inexpensive notebook and pen, may promote journaling.
• Suggestions for incorporating spiritual disciplines into daily life to keep the soul care going
Recommended Resource: Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard
As for retreat themes, Rubietta says that her most requested retreat topics include the need for rest/peace, freedom from worry/stress, handling transitions/change and anything having to do with relationships. Planners can also survey potential attendees to get theme/content ideas that are most relevant to their groups.
Identifying and addressing all of the nitty-gritty details in advance of the retreat will help ensure a more positive retreat experience. In general, the timeline below highlights the major actions that should be accomplished during the planning process.
6-12 months before the retreat
• Assemble a Retreat Leadership Team
• Find a location (See The Complete Leader’s Guide to Christian Retreats for ideas)
• Set a date
• Send in the retreat center contract and deposit
• Confirm a speaker or arrange for volunteer presenters
• Send out a Save the Date email/flyer
6 months before retreat
• Finalize a theme
• Assign planning tasks to team members (creating discussion questions, communicating with the speaker and/or retreat center,
researching free time options, etc.)
• Hold a fundraiser if needed to offset speaker or lodging costs
• Send out a reminder Save the Date email/flyer with theme and cost
3 months before retreat
• Send out the registration form and collect participants’ deposit or full fee
• Divide up the potential attendee list, if possible, and ask team members to personally invite participants (in person or phone contact is preferable to email or texts).
• Share retreat information/registration form on the church website and social media accounts as appropriate.
• Touch base with your speaker regarding session lengths and content/format.
2 months before retreat
• Finalize session formats/discussion questions/supply lists (for group time and/ or AV/tech needs).
• Confirm all housing/meal/AV arrangements with retreat center (if participants require any mobility/dietary accommodations,
let the center know this in advance).
• Create a Final Details email/letter that will give participants a packing list, a weekend schedule and contact information/directions to the retreat center 2-4 weeks before retreat
• Collect final payments
• Give final count to the retreat center
• Gather and/or shop for any retreat supplies
• Make arrangements for final payment to the retreat center 1 week before retreat
• Send the Final Details letter to participants
• Finalize any carpool/cabin assignments if needed
• Pack retreat supplies and prepare to depart
As much as planners diligently prepare for a successful retreat, potential pitfalls can undermine your efforts. However, being aware of these possible problems (and solutions) will hopefully lessen their impact and maximize positive experiences for your participants.
• Last-minute cancellations. Life often brings unexpected events. However, planners need to be clear in the publicity and registration form about cancellation and refund policies. Restate this information in the Final Details letter. In addition, be aware of your retreat center’s policy for the final count due date, how/when they will bill your group and how that impacts your group. Discuss in advance with your planning team how you will handle any last minute cancellations and refund requests.
• Distractions. While theme decorations, personalized welcome baskets and special retreat mementos are thoughtful and well intended, they really are extras…things that cost your planning team extra time and money to prepare. Choose wisely about what matters most to your participants, especially if you are limited by finances and schedules. Remember that the retreat’s purpose is to facilitate personal spiritual growth, as well as person-to-person relationship growth.
• 24/7 Connections. We live in a nonstop information overload world, and many of us are tied to technology that feeds that hunger to be connected. If your team really wants to help participants grow, discuss in advance how you will handle the use of cell phones and iPads during the retreat. It really is okay to ask people to silence their phones and put them away during a 45-minute session. Don’t feel guilty about helping participants connect to God and other attendees by disconnecting from the world for a bit.
“People who need to retreat need to get away,” Rubietta emphasizes. Even a mustard seed-size retreat can produce maximum spiritual growth if you faithfully and intentionally plan for God to be at work in your world-weary participants’ lives. Sometimes
less is more!