Planning a church retreat? Over the years we’ve gathered some great advice about how to plan a church retreat or weekend away and we hope some of our ideas might smooth the way for you.

If you’re the one who’s pulling together the plan for your church retreat or weekend away – or a youth group event or a conference for that matter – then there’s a lot to think about. Fortunately there are plenty of others who have headed down the same road before you.

Here at Cloverley Hall we want to play our part to help and support you with the planning for your church retreat. We know that time away can be a really valuable way of helping to build stronger relationships within a congregation or youth group. So, we’ve collected together advice about how to make your church weekend event work, without it becoming too much of a headache. Here are our suggestions and we really do think that all of the hard work is entirely worth it.

Have a really great PLAN

Starting to plan your church retreat of weekend means everything from having a vision for the event through to making practical decisions about timing and costs. You’ll probably want to think through a few things such as…

What are your aims? You may be thinking about a weekend of Bible teaching or an evangelistic event. It could be about sharing time together within or across age groups. Being clear about the purpose will help you plan whether the event is for teaching, envisioning, planning, growth, reflection or relationship building. Are you taking time out for a spiritual retreat, or creating an active holiday with plenty of social time? You’ll find opportunities to meet all these different needs on-site at Cloverley Hall.

Who will be the speaker? For a church weekend, consider inviting someone different from the regular teacher. A fresh face can bring inspiration and securing your speaker early on in the planning process will make sense if it’s a key element of the event. An alternative approach is to involve a range of different people in the teaching.

Are you planning a separate programme for children and youth? Arranging an external team to run activities and teaching for your young people can really bless the regular volunteers in your church. If you are running separate strands for different age groups it’s a great idea to plan some times when everyone on the church family will be together.

When is the ideal time? Choose a date that fits into your church calendar. If you can, avoid the pressure points in the year such a holidays and school exams.

How much will it cost? As a church, you may want to consider how much you value the event. Would you subsidise it? And if so, how? You could consider:

  • Free places to those with more than 2 children.
  • Free places for all children but encourage church members including parents to gift as they are able directly to this – that way you may be able to make it giftaid-able provided this is freewill and no suggested amount quoted.
  • General support for anyone via a confidential application to the leader.

What will we do? There will be decisions to make about the type of weekend you’re going to run. Will it be active or relaxed or a combination? At Cloverley Hall we offer fully catered accommodation with some different menu options. This means no one needs to spend time in the kitchen.

Where will we go? When deciding on a location for your church weekend you’ll want to think about travel distance, the facilities on offer and the cost. You may also be looking for a place where there are shared Christian values and experience of supporting the type of event that you are running.

If you are thinking about an event at Cloverley Hall, we can help you make a plan. Our other centres at The Quinta and Castlewellan Castle would also be delighted to welcome you.

PROMOTE, persuade and inspire people to come to your church weekend

The whole business of encouraging people to come is a really important aspect of preparation so start as early as possible, and then keep going.

Identify key people. Assemble a group of those most enthusiastic about the weekend and equip them with information. Encourage them to get alongside friends and family and talk positively about it. you could start your conversation with, “I’m really looking forward to this weekend, are you going?”

Be enthusiastic. Ensure announcements are delivered by those most suited to that job. Enthusiastic communicators will make a real difference. Use images if possible and don’t over-inform. If you are able to do this over successive weeks at church, give minimum info at first and then expand.

Be available. Have a Call to Action point in an unavoidable location at the end of the service and tell the folk where that is. Maybe a desk in the foyer or vestibule?

Be aware. Keep a list of the ‘interested but yet to commit’ folk. When your Key People meet, share the names with the group so the right person can follow up. That way you can make sure people feel invited and included and that someone they know is going too.

Take a deposit. You need to prepare for cancellation costs, should the worst happen, but it also will establish commitment from proposed delegates and reduce the likelihood of last-minute drop-outs.

Discourage part-time attendance. If there is a lot of coming and going, it can disrupt the flow of the weekend and achieving the agreed aims. Obviously there will be necessary absences but it’s great if you can minimise these.

PREPARATION is (almost) everything

The effort you put in up front to plan all the details of your church weekend will make a difference to how much everybody enjoys it. Delegating will be a huge aspect of helping everything to run smoothly. Appoint responsibilities – music, first aid, registration, activities, cooking and age-specific programmes. Don’t try to do all these as group organiser – you will have enough on your plate pulling everything together.

Here are some other ideas…

Make sure that your responsible team members are suitably qualified, especially for areas such first aid, catering and safeguarding.

Risk assess any activities you are planning. This is not as big a job as it sounds, but it ensures that activities and their risks are managed.

Make lists of what you are bringing (so that you bring it all home again!). Check what the centre already has available.

Liaise with the centre, providing them with all necessary information and double-check booking conditions to ensure you have discussed any special arrangements, diets, facilities etc. Here at Cloverley Hall we are happy to discuss ideas and we like to stay in touch. So please contact us. often we can help with advice, ideas or suggestions.

Allocate bedrooms and prepare a list for centre. This is really important for us to have in case there is an emergency and we make it easy for you by providing a bed list for the centre. You’ll find they are a useful planning tool.

Organise an information meeting for all those planning to attend. This can be just 10 mins after church some day, but allows you to communicate final information and delegates to ask any questions. It also helps to build the cohesion of this group in the context of the weekend.

Prepare and circulate an information letter and timetable to all delegates. This will really help to set expectations and enable people to prepare. Remember to tell people what to bring based on the activities you will be doing – towels, boots for muddy walks, swimming kit, sports kit etc.

DELIVER an amazing event

The team at Cloverley Hall are here to work with you in the delivery of your church residential event. Always let us know if there are any problems, needs, illnesses or accidents and we will always do what we can to support you.

We aim to offer Christian hospitality and a comfortable place where your group can enjoy time together. Find out more about why we do what we do.

Other advice for during the event would be to try to get your entire group to work with your timetable. It helps with group cohesion and also helps us in delivery of meals etc. If you are a small group, you can of course be a good deal more flexible, but the larger the group the more important it is to have a clear programme, to share that with people in advance, and then follow through at the event.

REVIEW for the future

After your event, take some time with your key people (or potentially the whole group of delegates) to review the weekend and see what was good and what could be better.

Have a report-back Sunday, telling the whole congregation about the weekend and sharing photos etc. If another weekend is planned, this is your launch day.

Try to find out why those who don’t go, don’t go. It may help you shape future weekends or plan the promotion for next time.

Plan a weekend away that builds your church and helps people get closer to God

As we said at the start, we think it’s really all about being clear about what you are trying to achieve. Set out with a clear vision, plan the activities and then enjoy spending time together. In our experience almost every church weekend helps to build a more cohesive community. People benefit from spending time together with each other and from spending time with God. If you’re the one doing the planning, we wish you well, and remember, get in touch and we’ll do what we can to help.