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Last month, we asked a few members from the Christian Camp Pro community a question: What was the one thing you would share with someone planning a retreat for the first time?
We received a lot of great responses! After reading through them, here are 6 categories that retreat planners and Christian retreat facilities recommend for first-time retreat planners.
1. Setting time aside in your agenda
“I would recommend that a new youth leader planning his or her first retreat remember to plan enough time in their schedule to allow the group to move around–from activity to activity or activity to mealtime or just to have some unplanned moments so that they aren’t overwhelmed or rushed.” – Leal Giddens, Coker Creek Village
“Communicate, communicate, communicate… in as many ways and as many times as possible, over and over and over until the day of the retreat.” – MJ Linville, First Baptist Church of West Albuquerque
Furthermore, remember that there will be people attending your retreat for the first time too. While you may assume that people will generally know what to plan for during an overnight retreat, it’s best to provide checklists for attendees. A few common things to communicate clearly are directions to the facility, what to bring, what to expect once you arrive, etc.
3. Finding the purpose and communicating it with your facility
“The first thing you need to figure out when planning a retreat is: what is the purpose of your retreat? Meaning what do you want your people to get out of the experience. Once you have this figured out then you can start your planning the retreat, get your facility, find your speaker and plan what type of music.
Figuring out the focus will set up everything else going forward. If your focus is a fun relaxing environment then you are going to want to pick a facility that has a lot of amenities, with multiple things for people to do so they don’t get bored. Also with a fun retreat, you will plan your schedule accordingly, with a lot of free time and smaller times for chapels, worship, and small groups.
However, if your focus is more spiritual then you will want to look for a facility that has a great meeting space for your worship and their amenities won’t matter as much as you want they peoples focus on God rather than the games, they can go play. This type of focus will also change your schedule of events with more chapel, worship and small group time so they can get more connected with your experience.
Having said all of that, no matter the purpose of your retreat you need to find the right balance for your group. Balancing fun and spiritual experience can be the most tricky thing you come across in your planning, so take your time, seek advice and work with your camp facility to create the best environment possible for your people.” – Mike Hoecherl (Executive Director), ALACCA Bible Camp
“Be clear with what your purpose is. What do you hope to accomplish? For example, is your primary purpose group cohesion, evangelism, discipling, leadership development, relaxation, and/or refreshment… Then, communicate your primary purpose with your host facility and ask for suggestions using their facility to meet your goals.” – Doug Payne, Miracle Bible Camp
4. Member Connection > Total Numbers
“If you’re planning a retreat for the first time, try to remember not to get wrapped up in or stressed out by the number-related things such as the number of people, cost, or timing of everything. Focus instead on the connection among people and with God. If only a few people attend, ensure those few people experience God. If cost is a worry, plan low to no-cost activities, and if an activity goes too short or too long, be flexible with the timing so that each person gets what they need.” – Julie Pfeifer, Loving Christ Ministries
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5. Don’t forget special dietary and physical needs
“First-time retreat planners: Make sure you find out ahead of time if there are participants with special dietary needs so that you can plan ahead of time to have substitutions available. It’s also important to know whether people have special physical needs for sleeping arrangements–whether people can/can’t handle stairs, if they need CPAP machines, if they need to sleep near a restroom, etc.” – Brenda Kauffman, Drift Creek Camp
6. Don’t forget to pray throughout the process
“CVR recommends you really pray about your participants’ ages, interests, and life stages. What is driving them? What do they like to watch, sing, or do? While you may have specific information or concepts you wish to share, if you do not pray specifically about how to reach your participants, your efforts will fall flat. If you can hook into what is occupying much of their time on a daily basis, you can impact their hearts not only in the moment but also in the long-term.” – Kim Nestle, Clear View Retreat
What one thing would you recommend to retreat coordinators planning a retreat for the first time?
Have you planned a retreat before? Do you have advice you’d like to share with first-time retreat planners? Let us know in the comments below.
Special thanks to Camp Olympia Retreats for making these Community Question post possible.