When was the last time the women in your church put on their favorite sweats, filled a suitcase with chocolate and slipped off to a retreat for Christian women? No husbands, no kids or cell phones? Just the girls and a heart filled with anticipation?
In this busy and demanding world, it is very difficult for women to schedule a weekend just to focus on their relationship with God. After all, who will do the shopping, the laundry, and unload the dishwasher?
While maintaining an orderly home is God-ordained, our heavenly father desires that we stop and take some time to restore our soul and focus on our relationship with him. You can be certain that the shopping, the laundry, and even the dishes will keep until you get back home.
Since it is a sacrifice of time and money for women to attend a retreat you want to make this a wonderful experience. Here are some suggestions to help you plan a very special retreat for the women in your church.
Truth #1: You cannot select a date pleasing to everyone!
In our busy over-scheduled world, selecting the date for your retreat may be the most difficult thing you do. No matter which weekend you choose, someone will have a child with a ballgame, a grandchild coming for a visit, or a husband with a high school class reunion!
Realizing that it is impossible to select a perfect date, the next best thing is to choose one that does not conflict with a holiday or a special church event. After your date is selected, it is very important to announce it early so the ladies can schedule and plan ahead for the retreat. Hopefully, other activities will be scheduled around your date!
Our team makes scheduling decisions at least a year in advance, but conflicts still occur. Some years we have large crowds and other times a smaller group. If you have carefully considered the events on your church calendar and respected family holidays, then simply trust the Lord to send the ones He has chosen to attend.
Our experience has been that the best months for a weekend retreat are September, October, November, January, February, and March. Warmer months are best in areas where severe winter weather is a possibility.
Truth #2 Location, Location, Location
Who likes to drive a long distance after a hard week at work or a busy week at home? As a retreat teacher and director, I have discovered that most women do not! And besides a long drive, there are lots of us who just do not do maps! (Instead of directions we need bread crumbs!) So, if possible, stay within a one hundred-mile radius of your church. The location should have a good reputation for Christian retreats, offer affordable rates, comfortable lodging, convenient parking, a nice meeting room, and good food.
A retreat held at the church is both convenient and keeps cost down. However, it is truly a real treat when women can get away leaving everything behind for a weekend to retreat with the Lord. It does not have to be fancy, just a quiet place away from the distractions of the world. (Of course indoor plumbing is a must!)
It has been my experience that women enjoy some free time to experience the outdoors. Therefore a location with a lake or a pond is always a bonus. There is just something holy and refreshing about sitting beside still waters to worship our creator.
If that is not possible, sitting in soft green grass and looking up at the beautiful blue sky is more than enough to remind us that our Lord makes everything beautiful.
Truth #3 Finding a Speaker
Selecting the speaker is your most important responsibility. She is the one who that will be sharing the word of God and leading your sisters in Christ to develop a stronger walk in the Lord. Therefore it is essential that her doctrine and beliefs be in agreement with those of your church. It is also important that the personality and teaching style of your speaker fit the personality of your group.
The technology of today provides many venues to find gifted speakers. The Internet provides several directories that list Christian speakers and the topics they offer. Most of them even have their own personal web page that provides background information, their faith statements and faith experience.
It is best to hear the speaker before securing her for your retreat, this can be done by requesting a tape from her or if possible hearing her in person. When contacting a possible candidate ask for reference names of places where she has taught before. Christian professionals should not mind providing references.
Communicating the needs of your group with the speaker is key to the success of the teaching sessions. If your women are seeking encouragement and a light study or if they are seeking more of an in-depth bible study-please communicate this to your speaker.
Speaker fees vary, and should include travel, food and lodging expenses.
Truth #4 Affordability
For some, the cost determines whether they can attend. Taking money out of the budget for themselves for a weekend away is not possible. So, it is important to keep retreat costs affordable.
One solution is to offer full and partial scholarships. If there are no extra funds in your womens ministry budget, ask women in your church to contribute to a scholarship fund. Most women are willing to give a little extra or provide an entire scholarship for a needy woman to attend and enjoy a special weekend.
If cost is a concern for the women in your church, here are several ways to lower retreat costs.
- Offer a one-night retreat instead of an entire weekend – eliminating extra meals and a second night of lodging.
- Search for a speaker who is within driving distance – eliminating airfare.
- Choose the music leader from your church. She will probably be delighted to contribute her talents.
- Host the retreat in your own church. When money and time are short, remember that there’s NO place like home!
Once I led an overnight retreat and we slept in the church gym! The music and teaching session was held in the sanctuary. Afterwards we moved to the gym for an old-fashioned pajama party. Even though the next morning our backs were sore and we had circles under our eyes, we had created a memory and were encouraged in our faith journey.
Since the primary purpose of a retreat is to enhance our relationship with the Lord and spend time in fellowship with our sisters in Christ, try to keep the retreat affordable.
Truth #5 Promoting your retreat
Once your date is secure, your location selected, and the speaker chosen, let the campaign begin!
Advertise the retreat in the church newsletter. Also, design a clever flyer for the bulletin board and to pass out in the womens Sunday school classes. Of course the ladies bathroom is always a good place to place a flyer-it gives women something to do while standing in line!
Make a special effort to reach out to every woman in your church. Sometimes new members or older women do not feel included, especially if they are not very active in the church, have young children or involved in womens ministry.
Send each woman in your church an invitation. Design or purchase cute postcards. You can either print them at the church office or have them printed by an outside printing shop. Your church secretary should be able to provide the mailing labels. On the invitation, include the date, cost, location and who the speaker will be. A personal invitation makes each woman feel important and says this retreat is for women of all ages and backgrounds and we want you to be a part of this experience!
Since a retreat provides a unique opportunity to reach out to the women in your church– go at it with all sincerity.
If your pastor approves, present a cute and clever skit [2-5 minutes only] advertising the retreat during the Sunday morning service. The skit should make the retreat seem absolutely irresistible. The best time to present the skit is the week the deposit is due.
Truth #6 Themes
It is amazing what neat and clever ideas a group of enthusiastic women can come up with! I have had the pleasure of attending many retreats; some of them had a theme, while others did not. Since I admire and appreciate small touches and clever ideas, I find it very delightful to attend a retreat with a theme. If you would like to have a theme, you will need the creative talents of several women. Your theme should be carried out in all advertising, flyers, decorations, and name tags. Let your speaker and music leader know your theme in advance so they can connect there sessions with the selected theme.
Here are two of my favorite themes:
- He Gives Gifts
This theme is about the spiritual gifts that God gives to believers, to be used for His glory and to minister to others. It is based on the scriptures from the word of God. Realizing that there are many different gifts, decorate your meeting room with different size gift boxes wrapped in all kinds of unique paper. Use extra large bows for table centerpieces, and tape one to the bedroom door of each room. Use every color in the rainbow! You can make your nametags like a gift box or just put a tiny bow on a standard nametag. If you are going to have prayer groups or discussion groups you can co-ordinate them by using the same color bow on their nametag.In addition to teaching on the spiritual gifts, your speaker can give the spiritual gift survey to help the attendees determine their individual gifts. The closing session should include a testimony from one of the women whose willing to share about salvation, our greatest gift from God. This testimony should be about 10 minutes.
- Women who Loved Jesus
For decorations, make different sized hearts using various shades of pinks, purples, and reds. Include scripture verses on some of the hearts. On each nametag, place a small heart sticker – under her name write a woman who loves Jesus. As a special activity, have the ladies write a love letter to Jesus and put it in an envelope. The letter should be kept in a special place [like their Bible] and then opened on Valentines Day for them to reread. This will serve as a reminder of their love for him and that they are a woman who loves Jesus.
Theme songs can include:
Oh How He Loves you and me;
Love lifted Me;
I love you Lord; and
there are many others.
In addition to teaching about women in the bible who had a special love for Jesus, include several modern day women who are known for their unselfish love of Jesus such as Corrie Ten Boom, Fanny Crosby, and Annie Armstrong.
The most important preparation for a retreat begins with prayer. Constant prayer, prayer without ceasing. Seek the divine guidance of the Lord for every detail of your retreat. You can then be confident that He who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to His power that is at work in us.