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Put yourself in their shoes

By Kayla

A 5-year-old girl walks into school wearing her new $135 UGG boots. Surely, her parents thought was how cute and grown-up she would look. But she doesn’t like them. In fact, she is jealous of the little girl sitting next to her wearing $10 Minnie Mouse shoes from Wal-Mart.

So, what does this have to do with retreats? Well, the planner is like the parent who picks out shoes for the kid, aka retreat guests. While intentions may be good, planners and parents alike sometimes forget to think about what those they are picking for really want. Think like a guest!

Let’s start with the basics. As you plan, you will become more and more familiar with the details of the event and the venue. Make sure to include signage for parking and registration. In your pre-arrival communications, let them know the time to check in and give details on what they will need. Going to a new place can be scary and confusing. Make sure to ask yourself what details you would need if this was your first retreat. Think like a guest!

This can be hardest for those leading a group that they have nothing in common with (read Youth Leader). No matter what you think is cool or fun, you must ask yourself if your guests truly think so, too. Otherwise, they may not come to your event. A good example is the theme. It is best to stay away from fads, such as a specific movie or character, because not everyone is going to like it. Likewise, young ones have a ton of energy, so be sure to plan plenty of time for them to move. Unlike adults, they won’t be able to sit listening to one speaker drone on for hours. (Let’s be serious, adults can’t either.) These same things apply for any group. Older ladies are probably not going to be big on shooting sports, while men don’t usually want to spend long amounts of time crafting. And don’t forget about food here. Chicken nuggets and mac-n-cheese is great for kid’s camp, but not for your couple’s retreat. Think like a guest!

The same principle applies to scheduling. Just because you have a list of activities that will fill it to the brim, doesn’t mean you have to use them all. Cut out that 15 random minutes of blacklight dodgeball (you won’t get a game in, anyway) and fill it with something more manageable, even if that means nothing at all. Manage your time based on the activity and cut out what is going to be least effective for guests. We know there’s a lot to do at retreats, and because of that, it can be easy to overwhelm guests with a busy schedule that leaves them running more than relaxing. The important thing is to find balance. Again, think from the perspective of the guests. Do you really want your retreat mimicking the rushing around of your daily life? That is what you are here to get away from. Think like a guest!

The safest route is to provide options. Now, don’t overwork yourself trying to please everyone to a “T.” Instead, during free times, try to schedule two activities that are pretty different to ensure that guests at least like one. A good example I’ve seen was a large event with multiple breakout sessions. The leader compiled a list with times, and each was provided twice, so that if there was a conflict between two that a guest really liked, they could end up making both. Try your best to plan what you would want if you were attending. Think like a guest!

What retreat planning comes down to is the actions necessary to make your event as effective as possible for those attending. Break down the entire event as if you were attending yourself. And when you get stuck, put yourself in their shoes and think like a guest!

Christian Retreats Network /

Based at Lake Williamson / PO Box 620 / Carlinville, IL 62626