Learning how to plan a retreat can be intimidating. That is exactly what we were feeling when our Book Club decided to plan a retreat in order to grow closer to God and to each other.
But as we discussed the idea our excitement grew and the possibility that we could learn how to plan a retreat and actually host a retreat began to take root.
When planning a retreat it is important to remember that retreats can be successful whether small or large, held at someone’s house, a church, or a paid venue.
What helps ensure success when planning a retreat is being organized, flexible, bringing together a great team, and prayer.
Gathering, learning, and connecting are the goals of most retreats and that can be done in many ways.
If you are interested in learning how to plan a retreat, I hope this information will help you as much as it helped our team and retreat attendees have an unforgettable experience.
“When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.”
Matthew 18:19-20 MSG
How to Plan a Spiritual Retreat
There are many types and styles of retreats. But learning how to plan a spiritual retreat was our goal and held the possibility of changing lives.
After obtaining clearance from our church, we took five introductory steps to plan a spiritual retreat.
5 Steps to Begin Planning a Spiritual Retreat
Chose a Retreat Theme
As a team, for our spiritual retreat, we chose the theme, “Identifying My Spiritual Gifts.” We offered a spiritual gifts test and many attendees loved the opportunity to understand their gifts while growing closer to Jesus.
Chose a Retreat Date and Time
It is difficult to reach an agreement on retreat dates with a large group of people, a church, and a venue. We found it is best when planning a retreat to choose a date with a few core leaders.
After a date for the retreat is chosen, you can build a team around the selected date
Decide on Retreat Size
Before you decide on a venue discuss how many attendees you are prepared to host. Retreats can consist of a few people to a large gathering. I have found that a group of 40 is ideal to build friendships, but retreat size depends on your goals, budget, and comfort level.
Find a Retreat Venue
When planning a retreat find a venue that best supports the size of your retreat, the style, and the cost parameters.
Obtain pricing, and a contract, review terms and become familiar with rules, requirements, and arrival and departure times.
Create a Timeline
The retreat planning timeline will depend on how much time you have before the retreat, the size, venue, and church requirements. Creating a timeline will help you stay on track and keep your team on the same page.
These 5 steps lay the groundwork when planning a spiritual retreat or most types of retreats.
Planning a Retreat Checklist
When learning how to plan a retreat, a checklist is extremely helpful. This was our first retreat so we created this checklist as we went through the process.
Planning a Retreat Checklist: 12 Tips
When learning how to plan a retreat and creating a checklist, prayer is the most important tool.
Let God guide you along the way so you don’t get overwhelmed and keep the purpose of why you are planning a retreat in focus.
1)Select a retreat date
Decide on a date and location. Consider seasons, schedules, weather, and distance. Determine the length of the retreat; one day, overnight, or longer.
2)Create a Retreat Team
Once you begin planning a retreat, prayerfully choose a team and start working on your checklist.
This is a critical step because the right team sets the tone for the whole retreat. A diverse team that brings something different to the group is ideal. Attendees will come from different backgrounds facing different issues. Choose a team that will be faithful, inclusive, humble, engaging, and welcoming.
Here are six team leaders we used with helpers underneath each leader.
–Teacher-prepare, research and pray about a message pertaining to the selected theme. The teacher can recruit helpers for AV, book sales, and other support.
–Snack Coordinator– decide if your retreat will have potluck snacks or if the budget allows purchasing snacks. The snack coordinator can recruit helpers.
–Prayer and Worship Team-the prayer and worship team will play a vital role at your retreat, so select those who are called to minister and help others grow spiritually.
The prayer team can also begin to pray for attendees as they register prior to the event. This team will also decide on what type of worship the retreat will offer.
–Arts and Crafts Coordinator-if you decide to include arts and crafts, this person should enjoy crafting and be able to decide on a craft that ties into the theme and enthusiastically teach others how to create the project.
We had two amazing coordinators who made craft time a huge part of the memories of our retreat.
This can be one or two people who lead the process and ensure all steps are followed. They also make final decisions and work closely with the church and venue.
–Decorations, Set Up and Break Down Team
This person decides on decorations for the tables and venue lobby (if applicable), welcoming and door prizes, icebreaker games/activities, and finds additional helpers.
4)Establish and build the retreat theme
When establishing and building your theme think about who will be the benefactors of your retreat. Decide if you want to cover a topic or a book study. Think about what colors and graphics to use. The core team meets and brainstorms ideas for the theme.
5) Create retreat agenda
The core team decides on a number of sessions, meals, schedule for teaching, crafts, worship, prayer, and free time.
6)Devise a retreat payment plan
Will attendees be able to pay over a period of time? This works best for many people. Set up a payment plan with the church and/or venue. Send emails about payment and collect money
Before each payment is due someone in administration should send out email reminders and confirm that payments are made.
7) Gather information on “what to bring”, retreat rules, and directions.
For example, if the retreat grounds are large, suggest comfortable shoes, or if the venue is chilly suggest a sweater. Also, include books needed or other supplies.
8)Organize retreat roommates and rideshares
Before assigning roommates, send out information to all attendees on people seeking roommates and rides to the event.
9)Work with the retreat venue to ensure the required space is available
Check-in with the retreat venue about the proper setup and other needs of your retreat.
10)Identify audiovisual needs and ensure handouts are prepared including the agenda.
Decide if there will be a PowerPoint presentation and if a computer and/or microphone are needed. Decide if you will print agendas or email them prior to the event or both.
11)Create an email schedule
Emails should be sent to inform attendees about the agenda, retreat reminders, “what to bring” and other information.
12)Organize and contact team members who will assist at the retreat
Contact team members the day before the retreat especially those assisting with the setup, welcoming, and check-in of participants. Review check-in protocols with your team and communicate when they should arrive prior to the start of the retreat.
You can Learn How to Plan a Retreat
The most important aspect of learning how to plan a retreat is making sure everyone feels welcome and invited. Prayer is instrumental in every step including being ready to joyfully welcome attendees despite unexpected mistakes or changes.
When planning a retreat, it is important to determine how to create an intimate sacred space. Attendees should feel accepted, comfortable, and able to freely express their uniqueness.
Here are six final tips on how to plan a retreat to ensure your retreat is a success:
- Provide a warm welcome- some people may arrive fatigued, discouraged, or fearful.
- Make the most important goal of the team and helpers to value everyone
- Engage everyone. Check in with each guest during the retreat.
- Do not over plan – leave room for free time and contemplation.
- Closing session: Provide an opportunity for immediate feedback.
- Thank all of your guests for their participation and close in prayer.
Once the retreat has concluded, ask God to create connections and spiritual growth to continue for all who attended including yourself!
*A special thank you to my friend Angie! Angie graciously served with me on two retreats and did an amazing job as the leader of admin duties. She shared her notes so I could write this article.