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Planning a life-changing women’s retreat

by Linda Robinson

How often are we still before God? How often do we assess the direction of our lives and relationships? The pace of our routines chokes stillness and self-examination, and as a result, many women never quite grasp balance and joy in life. If you work with women’s ministries, you have an opportunity to help address this issue. One way to do that is to plan periodic times for women to get away at a retreat.

I was 26 when I went to my first women’s retreat. I had never been around a group of Christian women or experienced the unique fun, fellowship, and faith that I witnessed that weekend. The women shared their joys and heartaches and lived out their faith before me.

Ten annual retreats later, Pat, who headed this ministry, invited me to help organize our church’s women’s retreat. I’m not sure what she saw in me, but how grateful I am today for her investing in my life through retreat planning. It has become my delight.

Details, Details
Pat put me in charge of the retreat decorations—not just flowers on a table, but full-blown themes that were carried out through the weekend. Country Western, Noah’s ark, and lord and ladies are just a few of the themes we’ve used.

We advertised the Noah’s ark retreat using a festive cruise theme. When the women arrived, they found a “cruise ship” we had erected out front named the SS Tarara (Ararat spelled backward). Not until they walked into the meeting room did the life-size, handmade giraffes, lions, tigers, turtles, pigs, and sheep—standing two by two—reveal the true theme of the weekend, the life of Noah.

Loretta, Noah’s fictional wife, hosted the beginning moments of our sessions, creating a lighthearted atmosphere that helped the women begin to break down barriers and open their hearts to God’s leading.

As I worked with Pat, I realized that every detail of a retreat should be carefully and prayerfully planned. From the choice of the speaker to the way little gifts are displayed, each part plays a vital role in providing a meaningful, effective time for each woman.

Every detail is crafted to provide an atmosphere where God, through His Word and His people, touches hearts in permanent ways. We never make it a goal to evoke strong sentimental reactions, yet because of women’s emotional nature, tears often flow as they face God and make changes in their lives.

Essential Elements
How does a retreat change lives? To retreat means to draw back to a place of refuge, privacy, or safety, sometimes to escape danger or difficulty. The overall goal is to provide an environment where women can be still, take time to worship God, and relate to their peers in meaningful ways. The ultimate goal is to give each woman a weekend that makes her feel as though the entire event was planned specifically for her.

Choose a venue that uniquely suits the spirit of your group and facilitates the goals of your retreat. Many Christian camps offer the atmosphere, service, and space to help make your retreat a success.

Women attending retreats have many expectations about what they’ll learn, who they will meet, and even how much sleep they’ll catch up on (or lose). A transforming retreat will focus on:

• The truths of Scripture: However your retreat is organized, it should include solid teaching from the Word. A keynote speaker, workshops, small-group discussions—any and all of these can teach scriptural principles.

• Worship: A good retreat will facilitate an atmosphere of worship through song, prayer, meditation, and study.

• Enjoyment: Let the women relax! Structure your time by being highly organized without being over scheduled. Provide opportunities for free time as well as planned fun activities.

His Plans
In the planning stages, recruit women for your committee who have a passion to serve others. Develop a weekend schedule that allows plenty of time for friendships to develop through small groups, organized games, or downtime.

Remember that a retreat belongs to the Lord; allow Him to guide you as you plan. Hold your retreat in an open hand and allow God to work in women’s hearts in His timing, with His creativity, in His tender, loving way. And always give Him the glory as you laugh, worship, learn, and serve together.

A simple weekend away can turn into an opportunity for life-transforming change—not just in the hearts of the women who attend, but in yours as well.

Linda and her ministry partner, Karen Black, help churches across the nation develop effective retreat ministries. For more information, see their book, Women’s Retreats (Kregel Publications, 2004).

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