So you think a retreat sounds cool. It could be a fabulous thing for your men’s or women’s group, youth group, or volunteer leaders training; but WHERE TO BEGIN?!? It can all feel a little overwhelming but never fear: we are going to break it all down for you.
Before you do ANYTHING else: pray and ask God to lead you to the WHY. Why go to all this hard work? What is the result you want to see at the end of the retreat? Are you in desperate need of some girl time? Need to kickstart your men’s group’s passion to step up and be leaders in their homes and communities? Do you need to create space for the M.O.P.S. group to get away and recharge? What about teaching your youth about addictive habits? OR healthy views on sex and marriage? What if you just want to pray. A lot. Well, getting the why written down, fleshed out, and named is where it all begins. Your “whys” should include some thought to the “feel” of the retreat and the kind of atmosphere you want to create. Make sure you also plan a clear topic or theme for the retreat. This doesn’t have to be cookie-cutter by any means, but I would urge you strongly to make sure there is a theme that everyone will be able to communicate concisely and clearly when they leave - that way they don’t leave thinking, “Well, that was fun, but what was the main point again?”
Figure out some of the logistics. You have to have dates, times, a place to go (we recommend Waukaway, of course). On top of that, people need to eat and sleep (usually in that order). You’ll also want to identify key leaders you can team up with to really get this thing polished.
Next, jump into the content. Figure out how your topic or theme can be broken down into teaching sessions. Remember, this doesn’t have to translate to preaching or lecturing, though it certainly can, but could also be the framework for activities you want to treat as important as a traditional teaching session. Things to consider: worship activities, breakout sessions, small group discussions, etc.
Our next suggestion is something we’ve stumbled upon by experience: planned, “memorable moments.” There is some major truth behind first and last impressions, so plan for them. How can you great your participants in such a way that they feel immediately put at ease and safe? How can you send them off with a smile on their faces and maybe even something in their bag to remind them of the experience? Don’t forget to think about the potential slump in the middle of the retreat and plan something to keep energy and engagement up. This would also be the time to get creative with regards to meal times, cabin times, and any other “routine” or needed time in your schedule; is there any way to connect that time even better to the theme?
NOW make your schedule. Plan for the essential needs first: eating, sleeping, and transition times for bathroom breaks, etc. People usually don’t want too much downtime, but you also don’t want to be rushed or constantly trying to catch up to your schedule. We recommend planning one hour per meal, and reasonable bedtimes. Plan your meeting times and other activities with just enough time for flexibility. Also, it's good to think through back-up plans - what is essential? What can be changed if something happens off schedule? Plan to follow your schedule, but don’t be caught off guard if the weather doesn't cooperate.
That’s it! Well, sort of. That is how we would recommend starting to plan a successful retreat. We don’t want to pretend it is too easy, but we also think many of us just need to be able to break it down into smaller steps in order to wrap our minds around it.
If you haven’t checked it out, make sure to click the button below to download the planning guide we put together that walks you through the steps listed above. We really hope it helps you plan the retreat your group needs.