Planning a Church Retreat: Tips and Tricks for The Best Events!

We are often asked about planning a church retreat for many Branson groups–these retreats can be fulfilling times for all attendees and a little bit of planning can really make your church getaway one to remember. Below are some of the most often asked questions we get about planning a church event.

First of all, identify the basic steps & factors that you need to consider for planning your church retreat:

  • Identify the type of church retreat: contemplative or issue-oriented (grief, creativity, spirituality); a specific population or group (parents, divorced, young adults, men, women); or seasonal (winter, summer, Lent)
  • Choose a memorable theme; give the retreat a catchy name that’s easy to remember
  • Choose a site appropriate to the retreat purpose (two to three hours distance from the church campus is ideal)–that way you’re not too far from home, but far enough to forget about the cares outside the church retreat planning
  • Identify your target audience and indentify their specific interests and needs
  • Be specific about what you want participants to get out of the experience
  • Remember that planning a church retreat is not like planning a glorified or extended workshop
  • Don’t go it alone–work with a group to collaborate planning the church reatreat and encourage each member’s creativity
  • Determine what church retreat leadership is appropriate, and then seek out the right person/people
  • Always schedule plenty of time so that you don’t cut short a memorable experience due to time constraints. Your church retreat should probably span three days (ex.: Friday evening till Sunday afternoon)
  • Plan icebreakers and getting-to-know-you activities for the first session, especially if people from many different churches are attending
  • Provide refreshments, snacks and treats, disposable cameras, board games, writing materials, craft materials, sports equipment, appropriate music, theme-related skits, theme-related readings and videos–anything you can think of while planning a church retreat that would be welcomed by the attendees
  • Create an attractive, colorful brochure or flyer–(most church retreat planners are surprised at how helpful this is)
  • Announce the retreat four to five months before the event to give people time to plan ahead. (However be sure to plan the church retreat a year ahead of time, to make sure you can book the appropriate facilities)
  • Limit attendance as appropriate for the nature of the retreat–men only? Women’s retreat? Kids? Families?
  • Plan for a follow-up with all attendees to make sure you get the most out of your time together.

Once you’ve got the basic ideas for planning a church retreat laid down it’s time to ask some more specific questions to help tie down the details. The more planning you invest in the experience, the more likely your church members will come to value it and work towards the retreat goal.

Question: So where do we start?
Answer: The first action to planning a church retreat is to form a committee. Keep the committee size small, but large enough to have many different ideas and points of view to make sure all church members who might attend are represented.

Question: How do we determine who to invite?
Answer: Use your retreat goals to decide which departments or classes you want to include–maybe it’s just for church staff to recharge their batteries, maybe it’s a family retreat or a men’s or women’s retreat, etc.

Question: Do we need invitations?
Answer: They help, yes! Start by assembling a guest list of church members, children, grandparents, cousins and spouses. It’s usually a good idea to touch base with an elderly church member from each branch of the church to help you track down contact information for each person. Make sure to collect email address for speedy communication. Once you have plans in place, it’s time to invite the guests. You’ll want to do this well in advance (four to five months ahead) and also send a reminder a few weeks before the occasion. If a ticket price is required be sure to include that cost with a deadline for payment. Tickets purchased in advance also means people will be less likely to cancel at the last moment!

Question: How can we get commitment?
Answer: If you’re planning to include a lot of people in your church retreat, consider sending out a letter to let people know that a retreat is possible. This will help you gauge interest and preferences, and ask for help with the planning. Include possible dates, accommodation options, a preliminary itinerary, contact person with a phone number, all cost, payment procedure and directions. Ask families member to survey their church and respond back to the committee.

Question: How do we select the dates?
Answer: First you will need to determine how long you plan to get together. The farther distance members have to travel the longer the event should last. Choose your absolute date based on what’s best for the majority of church members.

Question: Where should we hold our church retreat?
Answer: The ideal retreat site is one which is accessible and affordable for everyone. Select a central location to reduce travel expenses. Select a committee to conduct site visits of prospective properties. When choosing a location for your church retreat, here are some things to consider:

  • Distance – Will the church retreat be a week, weekend or a day?
  • Convenience – A location that has easy access to a major airport will provide you with improved attendance.
  • Accessibility – Consider elderly members may need elevator access, children are happier with a pool and playground area.
  • Affordability – Cost is important to consider for all church members. Ensure the location you choose fits into your budget and of your members. Most places will have group discounts for multiple rooms.
  • Accommodations – Will your church be comfortable in a hotel or would they prefer the comfort of full service condominiums. Some may like the outdoors and prefer rustic lake side cabins while others prefer a cabin feel with all the comforts of home.

Question: What kind of activities work best?
Answer: What attractions and activities does the retreat site have? Leisure activities such as boating, swimming, golf and camping can be fun for a church retreat. Attendees may enjoy a location with nearby lakes, museums, amusement parks, sports facilities and other attractions. You don’t need to occupy everyone all the time, but planned activities and ice-breakers at your church retreat will provide an easy way for people who do not know each other well to comfortable spend time together. Include activities that will appeal to all ages and play games to break the ice for church members that have not seen each other for some time. Have a contest and award prizes for longest distance traveled, youngest member, oldest member etc.

Question: How do we pay for the retreat & who is responsible?
Answer: Develop a budget. This will determine the level of the accommodation, decorations, activities and food for your church retreat. You can have families pay for their own hotel stay and set up a small fee for other expenses.

Question: How much should we spend on food?
Answer: Feeding a large group of people with different tastes is perhaps one of the hardest part of planning a church retreat event. Make it easy on yourself by selecting a menu that includes a selection of meats, vegetables and desserts with an all inclusive price. A tasty menu makes for an unforgettable church retreat. You can also see my other article that talks about the ins and outs of Retreat Meal Planning.

Question: How do we organize picture taking?
Answer: Church members will bring cameras but you might want to designate a definite person as the official photographer. Perhaps you should hire a professional to take photos but in either case make a list of events and people you want covered. Have a committee member create and send out a newsletter with stories and photos from the reunion. This is a great way to get people excited about the next reunion, as well as include less fortunate church members who were not able to attend.

Question: What about all those extra expenses?
Answer: If you don’t want to charge for the extras at your retreat, then you’ll need to plan for a fund raising event. Hold a raffle or have an auction, develop and sell a church cook book or retreat video.

Question: Do we need a program?
Answer: Create a program that outlines the lineup of scheduled events to provide to church members as they arrive for the retreat. You may also want to email or place it on your church Web site in advance of the retreat. Some members will assist you with setting up a retreat web site don’t hesitate to ask. This will help serve as a reminder to people of activities which may require they bring something with them. Purchase or make a guest book to collect signatures, addresses, and other important information, as well as serve as a permanent record of the retreat. Don’t miss our article on creating retreat websites to help create your website!

Answering those questions will take you a long way towards planning a church retreat. Just always be open to input from others and be flexible and you’re sure to have a fantastic church event planned! If you’re one of the many churches planning to come to Branson, be sure to contact our Branson groups coordinator who will be more than happy to help make your church event in Branson an unforgettable one!