Planning a Quality Small Group Retreat

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Planning a Quality Small Group Retreat

Retreats are THE most powerful get together that your small group can have. Don’t miss out on this rare opportunity to bond your group and break down the walls between the leaders and those in attendance. Quality Small Group Retreats don’t happen by accident, though. They must be thought through and planned for.
Mindset for Planning:

  • You want to have some structure (so people know what to expect), but a lot of free time.

  • You certainly want to have a game plan going into it, but be ready to drop it when the Spirit leads!

  • Make sure you have several planned “spiritual” times (praying, worship, testimonies, group discussion), but don’t overlook the power of some “let your hair down” times of fun, laughter, and conversation.

  • A quality small group retreat is a balance between meaningful, planned group activities and plenty of free time for people to do their own thing. Think of planned group activities as a skeleton that provides a framework for your group to build upon.

Promote It Heavily and Early:

  • Try to give at least a couple months notice, if not more.

  • Really push it as something they don’t want to miss out on. (Because it really is that important!)

  • Have someone that’s been on a retreat testify about the importance and benefits, as well.

  • Ask for some people to help out financially for those that need it.

  • If someone needs financial assistance, have them approach you or your co-leader privately.

    • Make sure that money is not the reason someone doesn’t attend.

Food and Meals:

  • Delegate groceries to a couple people in the group (they can make an evening out of it.)

    • Ask them to plan the menu ahead of time and to stick to a budget

    • Avoid the temptation to buy lots of junk food (chips, pop, cookies). Junk food can drive up the cost, cause people to snack to much, and give people gut rot.

  • Another idea is to plan for only two meals each day (10:30-ish brunch and 5:00-ish dinner)

    • otherwise you’ll feel like your in the kitchen all day!

    • it will free up people to sleep in or have a quiet time in the morning.

    • it will also give you more time to do stuff in the afternoon.

    • you’ll want to have bagels, fruit, coffee, etc. for those that can’t wait till brunch.

    • this creates some men’s and women’s times for chatting and bonding

  • Have people volunteer to bake up some goodies for the weekend.

    • allows people to feel involved, and keeps them from backing out!

Friday Evening:

  • Carpooling can be a great aspect of the weekend, with some great discussions and bonding.

  • Singles Groups: make sure you delegate someone to set up carpools so no one drives alone.

    • especially make sure new people get in carpools if you can!

  • Early Arrivals - if you can, try to take the afternoon off and see if others can go up early as well.

  • If it is a long drive, keep Friday night casual. (Although a prayer time is needed to start the weekend right.)

    • People have had a long week and need some time to unwind.

  • You can have some games, cards, or activities ready, but don’t force it.
  • If people settle into good conversations, let it go.

  • You may want to have a “Book of Questions” to help generate some conversation.

Saturday Morning:

  • As mentioned above, having a 10:30am brunch allows people to sleep in or have a quiet time.

    • (you’ll probably need bagels or cereal for the early risers that can’t wait till brunch)

  • Ask people (Friday Night) to be read quietly in the morning and avoid making noise until 9:30am. This will allow people to sleep in or have a quiet time. In small quarters, like you’ll probably have, it allows several people to have a quiet time in the same room. If you have a couple people chatting away they will take over a room.

  • Prepare people ahead of time for the mornings by asking them to bring something to read.

  • You may want to give them something to read, that you can discuss later in the day.

Saturday Group Time:

  • After brunch, allow time to clean up and then pull everyone together for a group time.

    • if you start this by 12noon, you can wrap up by 1:00pm or 1:30pm, thus giving plenty of free time until dinner.

  • Do something different with this time than your usual small group study.

    • copy a chapter out of a book

    • listen to a special message on tape

    • you can have people read something in the morning, so you can talk about it at group time.

    • during a spring retreat, you may want to have your apprentice(s) share their testimonies.

Saturday Afternoon:

  • Leave this time open for people to go on walks, talk, play cards, etc.

  • You have to leave open “chunks” of time like this for people to get to know one another.

  • Open times also allow an opportunity to just “play”, or sit down with someone and go “deep”.

  • This will also give you leaders an opportunity to have great talks with members of your group.

  • You may want to organize a walk, football game, or something else. (Don’t be afraid to delegate it)

Saturday Dinner:

  • You can do dinners whenever you want, but an earlier dinner allows you more time in the evening, and people will

  • Be hungry earlier after a 10:30am brunch meal.

  • You’ll want to keep it simple, or at least not too complicated. You are there for the fellowship, not the food.

Saturday Evening:

  • Saturday evening will usually be the “meat” of the weekend, but it may be wise for you to keep it light for a newer group. In the fall, it’s more important to be building unity and community, so you’ll have more “fun” time. A group that’s been together longer can incorporate more ‘meaty’ things like prayer and worship.

  • Testimonies are always a good bonding experience for Saturday night and a small group retreat tradition. By Saturday night, people have had a chance to relax and get prepared for something deeper.

  • You may want to have a time of communion.

  • Have a time of prayer and worship (if you can pull it off)

  • Alternatively, you may want this evening to be a “Part II” of the lesson you did after lunch.

  • Make sure you leave plenty of time (like 9pm on) to do some social stuff

A few words on sharing testimonies

  • For newer groups, it might be wise to have the co-leaders share their testimony first.

  • I suggest asking a few people ahead of time if they would be willing to share their testimony.

  • When you do, make sure you coach them on how to give a testimony…

    • No more than 30 minutes, unless it’s really interesting!!

    • Tell them to keep it focused on them, and not other people or churches.

    • Tell them how to communicate past sin, without too much detail, or glorifying it.

    • Designate someone to share what communion means to them (apprentice)

    • You may be able to get someone to burn a CD with 20-30 minutes of worship that people know, but make sure you put together some lyrics to hand out in case some people don’t know the words.

  • Be open to having other people offer to share their testimony as well

    • But don’t make anyone feel forced to share their testimony.

    • Be mindful of how long it’s taking and be ready to wrap up the time if it starts going long.

  • Don’t hesitate to ‘interrupt’ them to keep them on track. (i.e.- “John, I know your past church did some things differently, but we really want to hear more about you.” Or “John, I really enjoy hearing your story, but I think there’s some other people who might want to share as well”)

Sunday Morning:

  • Bring some closure to the weekend with a worship or prayer time or some other activity

Appendix A: Group Activities / “Get to know each other” games

Four on a Couch

This game is a guys vs. girls game, although there must be equal numbers (so sometimes guys must be girls or vice versa; playing with an odd number of people is fine). The object of the game is to get four guys or four girls on the couch (if you’re guys, you try to get four guys on the couch). Gather enough seats for everyone to sit down in a seat plus one empty chair. Everyone should sit guy/girl/guy/girl around the room. Write everyone’s name on a piece of paper. Everyone should then draw a name and keep it to themselves. The person sitting to the right of the empty chair then calls out a name. Whoever holds that name in their hand moves to the empty chair and both persons exchange names. (The person calling the name always ends up with that name in their hand). Then play continues until four guys or four girls are on the couch. The only two names you can’t call are your own name and the name that was just called.

Two Truths and a Lie

Directions: Tell your group before the weekend to think up two things that are true about them that no one

knows. Then, have them think up something that is not true about them. At the retreat, go one person at a time

and have them share the three things (two true, one a lie) about themselves, and have the group vote on

which is the lie. You can gives points for each correct guess and give a prize to the winner.

Three Truths with Matching

Directions: Again, tell your people the week before to starting thinking of three truths about themselves that no

one knows. Then bring little pieces of paper for them to right them on (one truth on each sheet). Then have

them put one truth in each of three different glasses or bowls. Next, you’ll read off all the truths in a bowl, one

at a time (you’ll have as many as there are people on the retreat). Number them “1” through whatever the total

amount is. Next, read them again in the same order and have people guess who they think it applies to. Then,

go one by one and ask who people think it is, and then have them come forward. Give a point for each right

answer and do it again for the last two bowls. Give a prize to the person with the most right. This is a great

way to learn about other’s pasts.

Stand Up and Face the Music

This is a game that you can incorporate throughout the entire weekend. Basically, it involves having one person stand in the center of a circle and everyone else shares what they appreciate about the person. You can choose the person by picking out a name from a hat or just choosing someone randomly. The time at which you choose to have people “Stand Up and Face the Music” can be random as well.

Appendix B: Retreat Centers

Also available on the Evergreen website

Ken Neuharth’s Retreat Cabin
W7949 140 th Street , Hager City, WI $29 per night per person.

Contact: (952) 484-0112  (Ken Neuharth - attends Evergreen Bloomington)

Approximately 1 hr from Bloomington. 3 miles from Red Wing. 3600 sq ft, with 3 bedrooms + large loft area for sleeping, and 3 bathrooms. 3 queen beds, 3 queen sleeper sofas, multiple futons and double beds. Plenty of floor space (4 queen air mattress provided). Full use of kitchen with microwave, dishwasher, oven, stove, refrigerator, coffee maker, pots and pans, and all utensils. Outdoor gas grill. Includes TV, entertainment system, DVD player and choice of movies. All the bed linens are provided. Inside recreation: pool table, ping-pong table, air hockey, darts, computer, and some board games. Outside recreation: swimming pool (4' X 24')basketball, bocce ball, volleyball, tetherball, croquet, fire pit, and horse shoes. Local recreation: biking trails ( Cannon Valley trail system), hiking ( Frontenac State Park), skiing (Welch or Mt Frontenac), canoeing or inner tubing ( Cannon Falls or Welch), movies (video/theater in Red Wing) and golfing.
Cedar Valley Resort, Lanesboro, MN (507) 467-9000
3 hours from Bloomington. New cabins, 2,3, & 4 bedroom cabins sleeping 8 to 18 people. Ability to get connecting cabins as well. Spacious meeting rooms. Approx. $25-$40/person/night, depending on how many, but rates really drop off from November to April. See details on their excellent website.
BugBee Inn on Lake Koronis

Paul Bugbee (320) 243-4448
90 minutes west of Twin Cities in Paynesville, MN
Beautiful 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6-bedroom cabins, Paul is awesome to work with.
Our retreat months (Sept – May) coincide with their “Off Season” rates which is 20% off the listed rates.
Three Crosses Retreat Center
11266 335th Street , Cannon Falls, MN (651) 258-4935  (Gary or Barbara)

50-60 minutes south of Twin Cities. The main lodging rooms are attached to Gary & Barbara's home. They consist of a large room with 7 bunk beds (sleeps 14) and another room with 2 bunks (sleeps 4). Plenty of floor space for any extras. You'll have access to their kitchen for cooking meals. Four bathrooms and two showers. There is a 14'x24' indoor pool and hot tub housed in a 30'x50' room also attached to the house. 150ft away is a separate 1350 sq. ft. room provides a great place for activities and large group meetings. It has ping pong, karaoke, pool table, and foosball along with a large screen TV, VCR/DVD, kitchenette and microwave. 20 acres on site with walking paths, pond, ice skating, sliding, volleyball, and bon fires. They also have a foot path with a garden and Faith Stations based on New Testament themes. Gary will e-mail you some pictures if you request them. This non-for-profit retreat center is funded by free will donations from the group.

Young’s Cabin in Cable, WI - John & Wendy Young
E-mail or phone Wendy phone: (763) 476-1771

$220/weekend -lots of Evergreeners & Rock people use it.

Full kitchen, with microwave, stove, fridge, pots & pans, etc. Charcoal grill on big deck. Fire pit in woods.

3 bed/2 bath, with free-standing fireplace between the kitchen and family room. Each bedroom has Queen sized bunk bed (sleeps 4 per room). Futon in family room can sleep two more for a total of 14 in beds. Part of Telemark Resort so you can use the lodge facility with pool, sauna, canoe rental, etc. (1 mile away) The cabin is surrounded by woods and is on a cross-country skiing & mountain biking trail.

Sunnyside Cottage of Forestville (sleeps 6-8)
Darrel and Lois Ray (507) 765-3357
Preston, MN 55965
2.5 hours south of cities on 52. $35 per night per person plus tax. Delightful 3 bedroom, air-conditioned house, furnished in country-style modern decor, fully stocked kitchen (picnic items too), dining area, living room, one bath (w/ one shower). Queen bed, double, 2 twins, & 2 couches. BBQ grill and 3 season porch, bench swing, picnic table. Linens, towels, and bedding are provided.
Luther Park Retreat Center
Anna Klevgard (715) 656-7244 (2 hrs. from Twin Cities in Danbury, WI)
Log House (Sleeps 20) - A historic lodge, refurbished with modern kitchen facilities, two bathrooms and five bedrooms. The Log House includes a large, comfortable living room/meeting space with a fieldstone fireplace, TV and VCR. It is winterized and handicapped-accessible. 2-night package is $46/person w/o meals, or $59/person with 4 meals.

Small winterized cabins with heat, modern toilet and shower facilities, carpeting and bunk-style beds. Two cabins have decks. (Eight cabins, sleep 10-14 per cabin)

Northrup House Bed & Breakfast
358 East Main St. Owatanna, MN 55060
Greg Northrup (Jean & Darryl) (507) 451-4040
Cost: Approx. $35/night per person. 5 private w/ king beds one large room w/ 5 beds. Can host groups up to 20

Lindisfarne Retreat Center
Michael & Jan Cummins (320) 629-6666 Pine City, MN (1hr 20 minutes north on I35)

A little on the rustic side, but definitely quaint & a memory maker. This used to be a favorite in the ‘early’ years of Evergreen. Short walk to restrooms & showers. $40/person for 2 nights gets access to three cabins, kitchen, & chapel.

Wilderness Fellowship (715) 327-8564
21897 Spirit Lake Rd. W., Frederic, WI 54837-9642

Completed in 2005, the Founders Fireside Retreat Center sleeps 7 in one room, and 5 in the other. Minimum suggested donation is $25/person/night. Look up more details on their website listed above. 1-1/2 hour drive from Bloomington. (East of Grantsburg, WI on Hwy 70). Pat & Nancy O’Brien and kids work full-time at this retreat center (they attended Evergreen Bloomington prior to that).

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