When you first bring up the idea for a retreat, everyone is all gung ho about it, right? But then as the planning starts and the search for a date becomes ever pressing, members begin to fall out. They give excuses or give up on finding a date that will fit everybody. Truthfully, for many, it comes down to nervousness about going, especially for groups that have never been. These kinds of people have “Retreat Commitment Issues.” (dun dun dun…)
It can be scary to step out of a normal routine. Going away for a week, or even a weekend, is a big step. Who will watch the kids, dogs, or house? What about jobs? These questions, and excuses, are going to happen. As a planner, you must be prepared to not only answer them, but also give a good argument as to why members NEED to go.
Don’t worry; I’m not just going to say you have to explain the “need” without offering any help. Off-site ministry retreats are about spiritual development. They not only help individuals grow, but also the church. Retreats allow members to truly get acquainted with each other. They say you don’t really know someone until you live with them, and even though you aren’t all moving in together, staying overnight in a new place together will do the trick. It’s also a time for fun. It can be hard to relax with stress, work, kids, and busy schedules. Retreats allow you to release your inner child while zip lining or splashing around at the beach. They can also be about work. Whether your group requires a bible study, addressing the needs of the church itself, or choir practice, there will be plenty of time to really get stuff done. Most importantly, it gives people the chance to pray alone and work on their relationship with God. The distractions of the world can be hard to escape in day-to-day life. Leaving them miles behind will ensure an opportunity to finally be alone.
Now that you can explain why a retreat is necessary, you have to be able to answer those questions and keep people on track for attending. Careful planning will help. Here are a few tips:
• Take a tour. Many retreat centers offer property tours so that planners can know what to expect. By letting uncertain members tag along, they won’t have to worry about being stuck at an unknown place. Seeing everything offered may also help them get excited about attending.
• Show the website. In this techy world, almost every business has a website. By showing this to members, they can see pictures of what to expect and find out what all is offered. This can bring up questions or help for planners with something they may have missed, such as a recreation activity or special food needs for dining.
• Give it a theme. Make it a topic that you will explore throughout your stay. This not only reinforces what guests learn, it also lets them know what to expect. Guests want to take comfort in the fact that they won't get to a retreat and wing it. A plan is important so guests don’t get bored or off track.
• Make the sign up process easy. Nothing deters potential participants more than a Rubik’s cube equivalent of signing up. Check out a sample registration form here.
• Have members pay when they sign up. If it’s already paid for, they are more likely to stick to it. This also gives a better head count and prevents financial issues.
• Make it an event for everyone. For those members who don’t wish to leave their kids, have a family retreat. While there, you can schedule activities and meetings for adults and kids separately, as well as, some to do collectively.
• Show them a promo video. If you have a video from a previous retreat you went on, let everyone see the fun. If not, you can find promo videos for different camps online.
• Repetition. Keep reminding them about the upcoming retreat so that they don’t plan other things or forget about it. Put it in the bulletin, on the church website, or in a newsletter.
• Know the DETAILS. The more details you can share about the property, planning, or actual event, the more people will respond. Reassure them when they have questions. Knowing the retreat planner has thoroughly planned for the event helps ease the nerves of attendees.
“Retreat Commitment Issues” is a serious problem, and only together can we overcome it.