Retreat planning takes time and costs money but if you plan ahead, you will be successful in your endeavor. If you plan far enough in advance things will go much smoother but that’s not to say that you can’t plan one in a few weeks with some hard work and probably a little help. Other problems by not giving yourself enough time to plan, include not being able to find open dates for the retreat property of your choosing, poor attendance and, of course, the added stress of planning with such little time.
Below are some guidelines to plan a successful retreat.
1. First of all, what is a retreat and why is it important to plan one?
A retreat is a group getaway, whether it is for a youth group, an adult retreat or a senior retreat. A retreat can be beneficial to any group for that matter. A retreat is used by members of a group to form bonds with other members, realize their purpose and to work on specific goals.
2. Where should you go on your retreat?
Retreats should always be held offsite and are usually held at a campground or retreat center. You should go to one of our Christian Retreats Network properties! Just kidding! Though we would love to host your event, you should choose a facility based on your needs. Make sure the facilities has what you feel would be good for your group as far as the setting and activities.
3. How long should your retreat be?
Retreats can be for one day but not usually longer than two weeks, but you could plan a retreat that lasts as long as you felt was needed by your group or organization. When planning your retreat make sure that you leave time for your attendees to take in the sites surroundings, talk with one another, think about how the retreat will benefit the group and don’t forget to have a little fun.
4. When is the best time to organize a retreat?
Any time is good for a retreat! Retreats are a great way for groups or organizations to start strategic planning, re-energize and refocus. Another great time to plan a retreat is after some internal conflict or crisis. Retreats can be used to smooth things out.
5. How do you plan a retreat?
A. Give yourself plenty of time. I know I mentioned earlier you could plan an event in a few weeks but as I said earlier this would more than likely make the planning process a lot harder.
Depending on how busy the site is that you want to choose to host your camp or retreat, you may have to book up to a year in advance, so this means you need to start planning a year in advance, that doesn’t mean that you have to finish everything at that point, that just means you need to start then. At the minimum, I would start planning at least four to six months in advance.
Know what you want to accomplish from this event and set more specific goals or objectives.
I have listed some examples below; there could be many more:
• Team building
• Problem solving
B. Start looking into retreat facilities
Start your research. Once you find a facility that look good to you, have them send you brochures, literature and other information about their facilities. Talk to other groups who have held an event at the facilities recently and get their recommendations about them. Set up a tour if possible.
C. Decide who is going to be attending
Will this retreat be for your organization, a youth group, an adult retreat, a senior retreat or some other type of retreat?
D. Decide how long you would like your retreat to be.
You have already decided your retreat goals; now it’s time to figure out how long you think it should take to accomplish these goals or objectives.
E. Choose your dates
When choosing your dates, make sure you choose dates that the people you would like to attend the retreat will be able to attend. Think about holidays that conflict with these dates that could affect your attendance. Other events to look out for are local homecomings, fairs, carnivals and kids sports. These events can also affect the success of your retreat.
F. Create a budget
Though you don’t have every dollar accounted for, you still need an idea of how much you or your group can afford. Make a list of all your expenses you think you will have, retreat prices, transportation, accommodations, meals, recreation, etc. and you can probably add 5% – 10% on to that figure to be safe.
G. Assign planning duties
The size of your retreat will dictate how many people you will need. If the task is small, one person could probably handle it. On the other hand, a large retreat may require a few people, or you may decide you need a committee. If you decide you need help using one of these methods, assign the corresponding duties to each person right away.
Think about the different activities you want to plan. Interactive activities are more likely to build team spirit than lectures. Mixing things up can keep people fresh also.
Make sure the activities fit with the purpose of your retreat.
Make sure they are inclusive of everyone attending the retreat.
H. Create a schedule for the events at your retreat.
This task is where you will come up with the activities, when they will take place and how long each activity will last. Make sure to include enough breaks and free time in your schedule.
I. Reserve the site where you have decided to have your retreat.
When choosing your site, if you are not the only person planning the retreat, make sure that only one person is the contact person in your group for the chosen site. Doing so avoids confusion and mistakes that can happen when more than one person is contacted for this task.
Questions to ask when selecting a retreat site:
• Accommodations – Dorm style rooms, cabins, hotel style?
• Do we want or can we cook ourselves, or have meals provided? If we want and can cook for ourselves, are there kitchen facilities available and does that cost more?
• Are the facilities accessible for people with disabilities?
• If camping, do we want bathrooms or outdoor showers?
• If we don’t cook ourselves can we request special dietary needs?
• How many meeting rooms do we need?
• Are we okay with sharing a facility with other groups, if necessary?
• Is there any extra charge for use of the meeting rooms?
• If needed, do we need to provide our audiovisual equipment or can we use theirs?
• What recreational opportunities are available?
• If you are staying in cabins, are linens available or do we have to bring our own?
Before making a final decision, try talking to other groups that have used the facility if you haven’t already.
If possible, have several dates that work for your group just in case the facility is already booked on your preferred date.
Get a contract with the price on it, signed by your group representative and the site representative. Most retreat facilities require a non-refundable deposit, the percentage may vary from facility to facility.
J. Finalize the retreat schedule.
Make sure you finalize your schedule as to give yourself plenty of time to make sure the site will be able to facilitate all of your events.
K. Make sure to send invitations or notices about your retreat.
If your retreat is a small group of up to ten people, you can probably get the information about the retreat to them personally. If your retreat is large, you will want to send these out to everyone as far in advance as possible, so people have enough time to plan and make arrangements to be able to attend.
L. Make sure you have considered accessibility
There may be some people with disabilities, make sure to consider their needs and make arrangements to accommodate their disabilities.
If you are a small group, you may only have to arrange carpools but if you are a large group, you may have to charter buses or other types of mass transportation. Schedule this ahead of time or this could ruin your whole retreat. You will also have to consider accessibility for people with disabilities also.
Within one to two weeks of your retreat you should have everything done, so at this point you should only have some double checking and small tasks left below:
• Check with the retreat facility to make sure that all the arrangements have occurred and are finalized.
• Ensure you have all the equipment and supplies needed for your retreat?
• Make final arrangements for meals if you have to bring your own.
• Make sure you have all the schedules, worksheets, etc. The day before you want to do the following:
• Check your agenda one last time and make sure you have everything ready.
• Check with your committee leaders to make sure they are ready and that there aren't any problems One of the most important things to do the night before your retreat is to make sure you are fully rested body and mind as to get your retreat off to a good start the next day.
6. What to do when the retreat is over.
When the retreat is over, it is important to find out how satisfied everyone was with the retreat.
Take time at the end of your retreat for an evaluation.
Setting aside time for evaluations gives you and the participants the chance to voice their opinions. During this time, the leaders can have a discussion with the participants on how the retreat impacted or benefited them. Most facilities will also have an evaluation form that you and the other participants should fill out. Filling out the evaluation will help both parties for future retreats.
Clean up afterward If your retreat was at a campground or any facility for that matter that doesn’t have the staff to handle cleanup, make sure that you and your participants clean up the messes you make.
If you liked the facility and your retreat is going to be an annual event, reserve it for next time.
Having a good relationship with a good facility can be beneficial for both you and the facility. Reserving your retreat right after also prevents you from having to shop around for a facility every year and also eliminates a lot of the other task that may change if you had to use another facility every year.
In summary, the key to a successful retreat is careful planning. Give yourself enough time to get everything lined out ahead of time. Following theses guidelines will eliminate stress and won’t drain your resources. Retreats that are thrown together at the last minute rarely turn out well, they will cause stress, drain your resources and will cause you to feel overwhelmed and overworked.