While we have offered a number of ideas and resources in our blogs and magazine articles, we thought we would compile our very best thoughts together in one place: Welcome to our step-by-step guide to retreat planning! This will be the first of five blogs in our series. Each blog will cover a different section and time frame of the retreat planning process.
We begin with preliminary planning. The hardest question when planning anything is where to start. Here’s a few of the key aspects that must be decided first.
- Build your team. Unless you are planning on doing this whole thing single-handedly, you had better get a team together. Before the planning really gets rolling, simply ask people in your group that you think may be interested or have helped plan events like this before. Once the event is established, you can open it up to volunteers. If you do create a planning team, you can break it up into committees that will each handle their own aspect of the planning process (we will discuss each of these sections in the following blogs) and allows you to delegate task specific tasks to the appropriate team or committee. Just remember that not everyone is a natural leader; many have other gifts and leadership may not be one of them. You can read more here.
- Choose a venue. Sticker price for your retreat facilities isn't the only factor you need to use when choosing a retreat facility; comfort, guest service, and simplicity are all realities for your guests. Use these questions to guide you when shopping around:
- What kind of accommodations do we want? Motel style lodging, dorm rooms, or rustic cabins with no plumbing and no heat.
- Do we want to cook for ourselves or have the meals provided? If we do our own cooking, what type of menu will we plan and is there a place for us to store/prepare the food? What kind of dietary restrictions exist among your attendees? Can the facility accommodate?
- Will the meeting space include A/V equipment or do we need to bring our own? Are there extra charges for the equipment?
Will our meeting space be private to just our event? Do we need breakout spaces for workshops?
- What kind of activities are available? Are there indoor facilities if the weather is inclimate? What activities involve extra charges?
- Does the facility offer any team building programs for your group? If so, what are the programs like and how much will they cost per person?
- How much money do we want to spend, and more importantly, what is the group as a whole willing to spend?
- Set the date (preferably sometime in the distant future so that you have plenty of time to plan). This includes deciding how long the event should be: overnight, day, weekend, week. It can be tricky picking a good date for everyone, but the best thing to do is just choose the one that most people can attend, or just stay away from the days you know many people can’t. Also take note of any important dates set by the venue: cancellation policies and timelines, lodging, guest, or meal count deadlines.
- Choose the target guest demographic. Who will be attending this retreat: men, women, couples, seniors, youth, families? You may even just want to open it up to everyone. Usually selecting the WHO is based around the WHY; why are you choosing to plan an off-site event? Maybe the youth have been struggling with bullying or the leadership in your church need something to spark their passion.
- Pick a theme that the whole retreat will be based around. This helps make scheduling easier and reinforces the purpose of the retreat. Tips for choosing a theme can be found here. Again, this will center around the WHY and WHO of the event.