Planning our women’s Christmas event last year was difficult, and here’s why. We had an early November retreat which had us all very busy at the time when we should have been finding and reserving a venue or meeting space and caterer. Obviously, we were at fault for waiting too late to start the process; however, the job would have been infinitely easier if we had had a resource listing restaurants and hotels with private meeting spaces, and information specific to those locations.
So, this year, we are developing a resource notebook, doing the research ahead of time for venues and caterers. As we run into venues that are a possibility for a women’s event, we are filling out an information sheet that will be put in our resource notebook. This informations sheet contains information such as contact information, number of people the room can hold, type of tables, holiday decorations, rental charge and any extra fees (sound, etc.) Obviously, prices may change and are dependent on other factors. However, we can have at our fingertips notes on the number the venue can handle with tables and chairs, basic room rental charges, extra charges, what decorations do they provide-fun facts that would help us determine if a venue would be appropriate for our needs.
Take a look at our Venue Catering Information Sheet. We may revise it as we use it more. Do you have any suggestions?
If you are considering a retreat this year, you may be getting a bit of a late start. There are three critical decisions that I feel need to have been made by now, unless you have a very unusual situation–or you are very lucky. Normally, we have found that a minimum of two of these three decisions should be made even a year in advance of your overnight event.
- Location – retreat centers and hotels are normally booked up to a year or two in advance. Normally we try to schedule our hotel one year in advance.
- Date – you may be limited by the availability of your chosen location or the availability of your speaker. If the two don’t work together you’ll have to decide which is more important to you: the date you want or the speaker you want (read more about this decision here).
- Speaker – a popular speaker may have limited dates of availability.
In our case, we are preparing for a late November retreat. Our priority this year was to get the retreat location that we wanted and had used last year. We found that they were booked into 2016, with very few favorable dates in 2014 available. So we booked the location and date in December of 2013 and took a risk.
Our decision about a speaker was then limited to someone who could come on that date. We have just finalized our speaker(s). In June, (nearly six month prior to retreat date) we will officially begin planning as a group-assigning responsibilities, determining schedule, and the many other components of retreat planning.
I’m sure large churches face challenges in doing a women’s retreat. Challenges come with the territory when you have a spiritual enemy who aims to kill and destroy, confound and confuse.
Speaking from the perspective of a small church, there are hurdles that loom large and seem impossible to overcome in our own strength. But we serve a God who is a creative Hurdle-Jumper. He says that NOTHING is impossible with Him. Consider the following five hurdles and the means to overcome them:
- “Doing a retreat costs money, and we don’t have any money in the budget!” Putting on a retreat costs money, and even a “bare bones” event requires expenditures here and there. The small church rarely has extra in its budget for special events, so your event must be planned so that it pays for itself. As you plan for the cost of your event, take into account the cost for paper products (booklets, nametags), speaker honorarium, decorations, and other miscellaneous costs. This total must be divided by the minimum number of women that you hope will attend and added in to the final cost of the event per person. When possible, consider what could be donated or borrowed for your event (particularly in the decorations area). Pray that God would show you ways to save money and yet put on a quality event.
- “We can’t find a suitable and affordable venue for our retreat!” With a small group, it can be difficult to find a suitable location for your retreat. Your group may not need a large meeting room, and room rentals can be high when not many women are in attendance. Don’t give up! Look beyond the obvious locations of retreat hotels and women’s retreat camps…pray, and be open to other possibilities. Our first very small retreat was held in a “fishing camp” on a nearby lake, and we all met in the living room of one of the trailers. You may also be able to cut costs by finding a place where you can cook your own meals, or bring in breakfast pastries. And there is always the option of an “at home retreat” where you meet at the church during retreat times, and go home at night. Pray that God would lead you to the perfect place for your group.
- “We don’t have the people with the know-how to put on a retreat!” While you may feel that you are lacking in people with the talents and abilities you need, God may have His own plan to raise up those who don’t know they have those gifts and abilities! Pray for volunteers who are willing and available; those are the ones He will use. Yes, He may stretch them, and use them outside of their comfort zone…but He may reveal gifts that women didn’t know they possessed.
- “Our women can’t afford to attend a retreat!” With the depressed economy, this is a common complaint everywhere. Retreats are considered non-essential. But our pastor’s wife always reminds us that retreats are life-changing events. That time away with the Lord should be a priority in our lives–a priority that is worth saving up for. Tell your women months ahead of time when the retreat is and how much the retreat will cost–and encourage them to begin saving for it (see this creative idea for saving). Remind them to pray and watch for God’s provision. And consider a fund-raiser of some sort, the proceeds of which could go toward lowering the cost per person for your retreat.
- “We can’t find a speaker, and if we could, we can’t afford to pay her!” How we would all love to have a “big name” speaker at our event. However, well-known speakers have busy schedules, set honorariums, and, often, travel expenses. On a tight budget, we may need to look a little closer to home. Pray, then consider other pastor’s wives close by, ask around about local speakers, ask your ladies–and even consider an “in-house” retreat, where the speaker is the pastor’s wife or another woman from your own church. If she is not an experienced retreat speaker, do a little extra to help her. Besides the theme of the retreat, give her specific scriptures and topics to speak on. And always budget a retreat speaker honorarium into your retreat budget. Adding a few dollars to the each attendee’s cost will provide the money for an honorarium.
You may have noted that, as always, prayer is the key to overcoming challenges. It has been said that problems are only “opportunities with thorns on them.” While we would love to have smooth-sailing in all these areas, finding ways through these obstacles will help your women to grow spiritually. As you persevere together, your women will bond with one another.
Are there any other obstacles you have faced – and overcome?
In determining a location for your retreat, you can choose from basically two general categories: hotels and retreat camps. We have held retreats in both over the years. This year, we again looked into hotels and retreat camps, comparing amenities and costs. We listed our Pros and Cons for a Retreat Camp. These are our thought on hotels:
HOTEL – Pros
- Rooms are private and comfortable;
- More staff available to meet needs;
- Possibly better equipment and set-up (lighting, tables, podium, etc.);
- Weather issues are a non-issue with everything under one roof;
- Food quality may be better with better selection and service;
- Food can be served according to our schedule;
- More conducive environment for older or disable guests.
HOTEL – Cons
- Generally more expensive than a retreat camp, depending on accommodations;
- Other groups and functions at the hotel can be a distraction;
- Traffic in the city;
- Fire drills (and yes, we have experienced fire drills in the middle of the night more than once!);
- Bar in the lobby may create a worldly atmosphere;
- Not allowed to provide your own snacks in the meeting room for the group;
- Staff may be too busy to be attentive to your group.
In determining a location for your overnight retreat, you can choose from two general categories: hotels and retreat camps. We have held retreats at both over the years. This year, we again checked out hotels and nearby camps where our retreat could be held, comparing amenities and costs. So we decided to give you our list of pros and cons for each. Perhaps you can think of others! Let’s begin with the retreat camp:
RETREAT CAMP – Pros
- Often located outside of the city, where there is more opportunity for actual scenery, less city noise, closer to nature and a feeling of “getting away”;
- Less crowded;
- Often, there are different accommodation options available, ranging from hotel rooms to cabins to dorms;
- Generally, a retreat camp is a little less expensive, depending on your accommodations;
- Many retreat camps are Christian-owned and operated, meaning that you are mostly dealing with Christians;
- May accomodate smaller groups without requiring room commitment;
- Often, you can bring your own snacks into the meeting room;
- More opportunity for outdoor activities, such as hiking, outdoor sports, water activities, etc.
RETREAT CAMP – Cons
- Weather can be an issue because moving to meeting area or cafeteria often requires a walk outside;
- Often, retreat camps are out of town and require more driving in unfamiliar territory;
- Camp food often leans toward the higher fat, more carbohydrate filled “comfort” food (expect gravy!);
- Food may be served cafeteria style, on their schedule;
- Meeting rooms may be less comfortable, less conducive to media use;
- Possibly less privacy and more rustic bathrooms;
- Beds less comfortable, and you may have to bring your own bedding; and many camps still have bunk beds for certain levels of accommodations;
- Dorms may present challenges due to loud sleepers, late-nighters, early risers, etc.;
- Bunk beds may be an option, presenting difficulties for those sleeping in the top bunk;
- May present physical challenges for older or disabled guests;
- Depending on how rustic the camp is, sewer problems can be an issue;
- Bugs and critters (need we say more?).