Lessons Learned from Women’s Retreats {Part Two}

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Photo courtesy of Sabrina Paige Photography

 

Yesterday I posted some lessons learned along the way in regards to planning and preparing for retreats.  The discussions that followed brought on more thoughts and as such,  I’d like to share these with you.  If you have more to add,  I’d love to hear so please add to this in the comments below.

A women’s retreat can be an extraordinary and wholly Spiritual experience for everyone involved. For those attending, those serving and those leading.  We can see God move and reveal Himself in every aspect of it, if we keep our eyes open.

Here are a few more things to keep in mind:

1.  Thank your volunteers.  Yesterday I said, “The more people you empower, the better it becomes.” Following up the retreat with a note or email of gratitude to all those who helped it become what it did can go a long way.  Those who are serving did so out of a heart to love God and others and maybe even love for you… so let them know how much you appreciate them.

2. Crying is cathartic.  A lot of people don’t like retreats or have a caricature of retreats in mind because of all the crying involved. Personally, I have a theory that we women try so desperately to keep it together in our every day lives that when we finally get away for something like this, everything comes loose and pours out of your eyes.  Sometimes you cry because you haven’t in a long time and suddenly the walls between you, God and others fall down. Sometimes you cry because you are empathizing with others and the pain they are going through. And sometimes you have no idea why you are crying and this makes you craziest of all.  Christine Caine once said, “there is no need to be afraid of it… it’s just water.” There is also no need for concern if you don’t cry.  Whatever the water level is… just go with it and let it out.  We all need a good cry once in a while.

3. Bring your missionaries home.  This is one thing we started doing a few years ago that has changed the shape of our retreats.  We raise money and offer missionaries our church partners with in Mexico to come home and retreat with us.  Not only does this bless them and give them an opportunity to rest, it bonds your women with the women who are far away, serving on behalf of God and your church.  Don’t give them a job to do other than to be a part of your body in worship and prayer… they naturally will serve and bless the women there because they can’t help themselves.  Put them in front of the women, introduce them, ask them to tell stories and ask them to tell the women how they can be prayed for and supported. We do a fundraiser to pay for their flights and such.  No matter how you make it happen, it’s an investment with an immeasurable return.

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Sabrina Paige Photography

4. Have scholarships available.  Many women, especially in this economy, can’t throw down the money to pay for a retreat.  This is where it’s really important to have the support of your church leadership.  When it comes to budgeting, make payment plans an option and try to leave room for those who need help by inviting the congregation to help sponsor and give towards those who can’t afford it on their own. Asking the women for at least a deposit will help them personally invest in the process, but helping them with the bulk of it will not only bless the beneficiary but also those who give.

5. Present the generations.  Involving women of all ages will make your retreat appealing to all the generations. Include variety of life stages and ages in your planning committee, include all ages in the worship team, the testimonies and the activities.  When women bring their daughters and spiritual daughters or when young women come on their own, bring them forward, welcome and introduce them to your community of women. Pray for them and allow the process of the body of Christ affirming their identity in Him and the unique ways He has created them and gifted them.

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Sabrina Paige Photography

6. You will receive more than you will ever give.  Finally, as I mentioned yesterday, planning a retreat for your church is a lot of work but the investment is worth it.  Here is where Kingdom math comes in for you and those who are working alongside you to make it happen.  All the blood, sweat, tears, time away from your family, time spent doubting and seeking God’s plan for your group will all come to fruition the way He has it laid out.  And you will come home physically tired and poured out but you will be filled to over flowing because you just got to be a part of something really amazing that God did.  He could have easily done it without you but chose to include you.  There is nothing better than that.

What else would you add?  What have you learned by attending or planning retreats?  What do you wish leaders would keep in mind when planning retreats?

Lessons Learned from Planning Retreats

branding-connect-womenThis past weekend marked the 7th retreat for women I’ve led for our church and mark my words when I tell you I am a recovering “not-really-a-retreat-kind-of-a-person.”

It’s true. The only reason why I even went to my first retreat is because I loved the two women leading them at the time and wanted to show my support.

In my mind, retreats were too much fluff.  I never found it appealing to be in one place with that much estrogen and quite frankly,  didn’t think a church women’s retreat could be that significant for one’s spiritual growth.

I was wrong.

I quickly learned from some really wise mentors who had gone before me, a retreat can actually be extraordinary and women can be together to mutually encourage one another in the faith.  I also discovered I was not alone in my feelings. While many women can pick up and go to a retreat without knowing a soul, many are afraid. Very afraid.  Anxious no one will sit with them, talk with them or include them.  Concerned it will be a waste of their time and will come back feeling worse about themselves and no different about God than when they came.

Each year, I learn a few lessons and I’m thankful God isn’t finished schooling me. Let me begin with this definition in mind that came from Kim McManus:

Retreat: the setting aside of extraordinary time to do something for the sake of your soul.

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way:

1. It’s vital to begin with a vision, but keep in mind you are not the author of said vision. You and your team should spend time praying and seeking God for what He wants for the women of your church. Ideally, it should line up with the vision of your church because the women are half of the body.  But keep in mind, God can and does what ever He wants.  Each retreat ends up taking on a life of it’s own and it’s important to resist the temptation to try and emulate one from the past.

2. We make plans, but the Lord directs our steps. Be flexible.. We plan and prepare according to our vision, the theme and the central message but God is so creative and shows up I the way He chooses, so holding your plans loosely is super important.  All your leaders {worship leaders, teachers, discussion leaders} must be in tune with this and willing to flex and change direction as the weekend goes on.

3. Discern the message before you decide on the messenger. Many groups will start with finding a speaker before they do number one. You as the leadership know your people and what God is doing in your community better than any speaker that comes in. You must discern this and then find the speaker or speakers who best fit. You may even find them right there in your own church which not only builds up the body but turns the hearts of your women towards each other.

4. The Holy Spirit can do what ever He wants and can work through whomever He chooses. Reflecting on our retreat this last weekend, what is striking are the stories of women who have been moved by the spirit of God not in a big flashy, up in front of a large room kind of way, but through conversations, encounters and prayers with others. Dreams and visions were shared, words were given and encouragement, proving God really does see us.

5. The women attending have so much to give. Giving away ministry opportunities, sharing leadership and empowering others to serve gives more women ownership in the retreat. Perhaps its our Mary/Martha dichotomy, but women will often feel more comfortable being there if they have a job to do. The more people you empower to contribute, the better it becomes.

6. It’s important to make it unique from any other weekend. This gets a bit touchy, but let’s face it… If you really wanted to, you could take a weekend away with some friends to go to a spa, shop ad relax. There is room for this at women’s retreats but if it becomes the central focus, then we miss out on a unique opportunity most women don’t have… To get away and spend a good chunk of time in the presence of God and in community with other Christ followers. We always encourage women to not do what they can always do at home and if they do… Take someone with you. Be with each other.

7. Having the support of your church leadership can make or break it. When your pastor and elders get behind your vision and recognize this is a really good thing for women, more women will embrace it.  By investing in your endeavor with your budget, resources and communication, and when women who are leadership actually go, everyone feels invested in and the body is built up.

8. Not everyone will enjoy it.  You can bend over backwards trying to make everyone happy and have something for everyone, however it is inevitable that someone will walk away without their needs met.  It’s important to evaluate when things are said and done and see where you can improve next time.  Getting input from those you are serving is valuable.  However you can’t expect to make everyone happy because you will simply be spinning your wheels.

9. You can’t do everything.  There are so many elements that make retreats good. From teaching, to worship, to solitude time, connecting time and free time.  Unfortunately, you only have so much time and you can’t pack too much in without losing your margin to actually bring your group home having felt like they actually retreated.  It’s okay to leave something out, to cut somethings shorter and try new things while sacrificing the old.

10. It’s worth it.  Planning and preparing for a retreat takes a lot of time, energy and investment from your church. In the weeks leading up to the weekend, it can become consuming. If you put the right team in place to steer it and allow God to do what only He can do, it is so worth it.  It brings value to the women in your church, it gives us an opportunity to experience God in ways we can’t normally do in our daily lives and it builds community.  And when someone comes and encounters Christ for the first time, all of Heaven rejoices… so should you.

What have you learned about retreats? What do you enjoy or dislike about retreats?