by April Kuykendall, Guest Services Manager, Deer Run Camps & Retreats
Whether this is your first retreat to plan or you’ve done this many times, eliminate the stress of planning a successful retreat by determining each of the following essentials. Then, make time to seek out a premier camp or retreat center that can meet your needs and be sure to make reservations as far ahead in advance as possible
#1: Why—Goals. It’s important to ask yourself WHY have a retreat and what goals you want to accomplish. Make a simple list of what you MUST have in order to accomplish these goals. Once you have this list you can move into thinking through the basic logistics of your retreat that ultimately will aid you in finding the perfect retreat location.
#2: When—Specific Dates and Start/End Times. Before contacting a camp or retreat center, determine WHEN you want to have your retreat—what time of year and specific dates. Narrow it down as much as possible and always have a second choice in case the facilities are not available for your first choice.
If you haven’t narrowed it down to a specific date, determine a couple of specific months. Some retreat centers book certain months of the year well in advance, so call as early as possible to check for availability and start the reservation process.
Also, decide on arrival and check-out times. For example, will you start with Friday night dinner at the retreat, ask your group to eat before you hit the road, or will you eat along the way? Will you pack up to leave after breakfast or stay through lunchtime?
#3: Length of Stay—Day, Overnight, Weekend, Week Long. How long does the retreat need to be in order to accomplish your goals—a one-day team building retreat or two or more days/nights? Many times you can acquire a better rate per person for staying multiple nights.
#4: Numbers—Minimum & Maximum. Many retreat centers have a minimum number required. All retreat centers have a maximum capacity. Obviously there are differences in planning a retreat for 10 to 20 youth as compared to 90 to 100 youth. Provide as accurate a number as possible so the retreat center can acknowledge being able to accommodate your group—both as a minimum and maximum. Established retreat centers are just as successful in hosting smaller groups as they are larger groups.
#5: Meals. Confirm the retreat center can provide meals or if you will be required to provide your own. Determine how many meals your group needs based upon your arrival and departure times.
If you are required to provide your own meals, take into consideration the amount of time, money and effort it will take to plan the menu, make purchases, prepare and serve the meals, then clean up after each meal. Break down these needs into teams and consider how this could affect your schedule. It most definitely is a HUGE benefit to find a retreat center that will provide meals for your group within your budget.
#6. Activities/Recreation. Activities and recreational opportunities can be just for fun or add to the goals of your retreat. Research or ask the retreat center what additional activities, team building and/or recreation are available. Sometimes, the opportunities are seasonal, so expect different options based on the time of year for your retreat.
#7. Meeting Space. Do you need one meeting space or multiple spaces for sessions, worship, Bible Study, small groups, etc.? Find out what the retreat center provides for audio-visual, sound, etc. and what you need to bring with you.
#8. Budget. You may find you’ll need to be flexible on some of your retreat “wants” depending on your budget. Consider …
- What is the maximum amount budgeted or set aside for this specific retreat? And/or, what is the amount per person?
- Can you charge participants at least part of the cost or all? If so, what is a reasonable amount to charge?
THE DETAILS: Place, Reservations, Site Visit, Marketing, Speaker and Worship Band
- What is required to confirm your reservations?
- Is there a deposit?
- Is there a minimum payment?
- When is the final payment due?
- Are there local taxes that you may not be exempt from or additional fees you need to be aware of?
- What is the cancellation policy?
Schedule a tour before making reservations or plan a site visit prior to your retreat if possible. You can then see first-hand how to make the best use of the spaces you have reserved and not to be surprised when you arrive if facilities are not what you are expecting.
After reservations are confirmed, begin marketing your retreat and planning details. Determine how attendees will register plus what the opening date and deadline are for registration. Many tend to wait until the last minute, so give a deadline two weeks out from your scheduled date to help lessen the stress of last minute additions.
As soon as possible, enlist a speaker and/or worship band if needed and determine the theme. Consider ordering t-shirts with theme artwork.
Other advance details are:
- Schedule: Complete this at least a month out so you have time to make adjustments for the unexpected. Sometimes the retreat center may need to adjust a meal or recreation time based on their own staffing. Providing your schedule to the retreat center at least a month out gives both you and them ample time to make sure there is no last minute scrambling.
- Food Allergies/Dietary Restrictions: Whether you or the retreat center will provide meals, be prepared to accommodate attendees who have food allergies or dietary restrictions. Provide a place for attendees to list these when they register. Communicate with registrants whether or not allergies or restrictions can be accommodated or if they will be required to bring their own food.
- Meeting Room Set-Up: Do you need tables or rows of chairs? Will you need a registration table? Tables for games or crafts? Any details you can provide to the retreat center beforehand will allow for advance set up and save time and stress upon arrival.
Planning well eliminates chaos while at the retreat and helps the retreat center of your choice be well prepared for your group. Planning well also helps you accomplish your goals.
As always, be flexible! No matter how well you plan, sometimes last minute adjustments are needed. Accept that fact, stay calm, and you and your group will enjoy their experience!