Have you ever tried to corral a group of squirrels? That is what it looks like when some retreat planners try to check in their guests at the start of the event. It can be pretty crazy. Whether it is 250 adults or 1,000 kids, getting everyone on grounds and to the first point is can be challenging. But with the proper planning, this process can run smoothly.
You should actually start the week before your event. Send out an email with the check-in procedures, directions, and times. This will save you some effort in directing guests once on grounds. Directions to the venue are great if you aren’t providing transportation from your church, but you should take it a step further and include a map of the grounds that shows where to go to check in.
Assemble your check-in desk. Make sure you have everything needed to check guests in, such as extra blank name badges, all the actual name badges, schedules, walkie-talkies (for communicating with other staff), extra extension cords and chargers, and office supplies, such as paper, pens, stapler, and scissors. Having a well-stocked check-in area saves a lot of time and work in the moment. Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. Also, make sure your check-in area is clearly marked. Use your retreat name and logo with a clear sign that it is for checking in.
Enlist a strong staff team. This is crucial to get everyone checked in without a hitch. Now, the number of staff needed largely depends on the size of your event. Whether you are using paper or a computer, it is most efficient to divvy up staff by last name alphabetically. For example, assign one person to check in all guests with last names starting with A through H, another for I through P, and another for Q through Z. Take the time to invest in them with some training the week before the retreat starts. That way they can become familiar with the process and software (if applicable), as well as have time to ask questions. A 5-minute brief as guests are arriving is going to lead to more problems than help. You may also add an additional staff member to help guide people to the check-in area and answer questions.
Consider a “Help Desk”. If you have the staff and space available, make another area just for questions. This would be for all concerns other than checking in. The “Help Desk” can offer solutions to menu questions, badge breakage, and directional issues, so that the check-in desk can keep the traffic flowing.
Use an efficient process. Pencil and paper can be an acceptable process if you keep everything organized. However, the quickest and most efficient means would be to use a computer software. This could be as simple as an excel sheet of all the attendees. Then use the Find button to search for last names or scroll through the alphabetical list. You could also opt for an online program. Most of these do require a fee, but they can handle payments, sign up sheets, run reports and provide an easy means of check-in. Some even offer a barcode or QR scan to check guests in in mere seconds.
Most retreats check their guests in at the venue. But if you are all meeting at the church to ride a bus there together, you should check everyone in there. That way, you know everyone made it to the venue.
A smooth check-in process will help get your retreat off to the right start.