As a ministry leader tasked with the mission of caring for a congregation or a group of students and families, you desire to build strong relationships. Through these relationships trust is built, the gospel of Jesus Christ is shared, and opportunities for discipleship take place. Sometimes that can become difficult in the whirlwind of day to day programming in the church. As a leader you decide to look for a way to spend an extended period of time together with a segment of your community, and start looking to do a retreat. In the camp world, we believe everyone needs a break from the routine of everyday life. Through this time of creating intentional margin people can grow closer together in a shorter amount of time through a common, shared experience. What if I’ve never planned something like that, where should I start. Here are some key questions for you to consider when choosing where to go for a retreat.
1. Why should I do something at a camp?
Camps generally are located in natural outdoor settings. Part of getting away from routine is different scenery, sounds, smells, and even pace of life. Look for settings that provide space for people to explore, sit and talk, observe the beauty of God’s creation. Are there trails, lakes, ponds, or creeks? All of this creates a great space for a temporary community.
2. What’s it going to cost me?
Price is always going to be a factor. Some places will have the space to allow you your own meals. If that value helps, recognize that you will need someone in charge of all meal prep before and during your retreat. Other locations will provide meals, and can be a helpful relief to just have you and your guests just show up for a meal. The #1 thing I would recommend looking for is a simple price structure that allows you to plan for the bottom line cost. Some locations may have additional activities that you can reserve that require additional costs. Ask about these upfront, and know what activities are included in the base price. The simplest pricing structure is the cost/person and should typically include cost for accommodations, meeting spaces, meals, and some general activities.
3. What’s available for us to use?
Planning to do something outside of the normal pace of weekend church services and weeknight programming is an additional burden. The church calendar doesn’t stop just because you have a retreat planned. Look for facilities that have activities available that don’t cost extra. Look for low tech games like ping pong, indoor gymnasiums, ballfields, canoes or kayaks. Things that don’t cost extra and that you can utilize as free time in the schedule for relationships to take place.
4. What’s the food like?
If you choose a location that provides food, ask what type of meals they typically serve. Some camps even offer to host people in full time ministry for overnight stays at no cost. See if you can schedule a time to visit the camp and take a tour at a time when they have meals served so you can get an idea of what the food is like.
5. Is it important to be the only group on site?
It really depends on the layout of the site. The most important thing is to know if you will have your own cabin and meeting facility. This makes sharing general areas like ballfields, gymnasiums, or waterfront activities easier with other groups. If you are a large group, ask what the minimum number is to have exclusive use. If you are a smaller group, recognize that by having several smaller groups it is feasible for the camp to serve your group. Sometimes camps have minimum reservation numbers that they will waive if there are multiple groups on site.
6. What if there is an emergency while on site?
It’s good to know what kind of staff support you will have while on site. Most camps will advise you to have an emergency plan, list of who's attending, and some sort of waiver or release for each guest to sign. A good question to ask of the camp is, “Will there be a host or point person that we can contact throughout our stay on site?” You want to be sure you have access to someone who can help if you need EMS or just an unexpected maintenance issue (running water at 2am).
7. How far ahead should I be planning a retreat at a camp?
This really depends on the size of the group. Most camps make reservations for a year at a time. Groups of 250 or more generally should plan about a year ahead of time. Groups of 100-250 about 6-9 months ahead of time. 100 or less people it’s reasonable to think you could find a location about 6 months out.
Hopefully, these questions are helpful as you plan to find a break from the routine of everyday life with people from your church community. The hours spent away together can create a much stronger bond than a year full of brief interactions on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights!