People often ask me, “What do you enjoy the most: writing or speaking?”

I usually respond by saying, “Both.”

Writing is my first love; speaking is a surprise love. I began retreat speaking because writing and speaking go hand in hand. It’s something I’m supposed to do as a writer because it is a helpful way to promote my books. But what surprised me was how much I enjoy it. I love meeting women from across the country and learning how God is at work in their communities. It encourages my heart to see the Body thriving and laboring for the Kingdom in places far and wide. The church universal is beautiful and I love meeting her.

As a speaker, I’ve attended numerous retreats over the years. As a women’s ministry coordinator, I also help plan retreats for my church. The following are some tips for those who are preparing a retreat for their own church.

Don’t Plan Alone

Planning a retreat is a lot of work, don’t try to do it all on your own. Recruit a team of women to work with you on the project. Find out their strengths and assign them tasks they can run with. Set a schedule of tasks that need to be completed a year in advance, six months in advance, three months, and so forth. Check in regularly on the progress. On the weekend of the retreat, you’ll need additional helpers to help with all the last-minute details.

Plan Ahead

There are two things you need to plan far in advance: the speaker and the retreat center. I commit to speaking engagements a year or two in advance. Retreat season takes place during the spring and fall. This means that between holidays and school breaks, there are only so many weekends available for speakers to commit to a retreat. The later you start contacting speakers, the more challenging it will be to find someone available. Likewise, if you want to have a retreat in a specific location—perhaps at the beach or in the mountains—you are more likely to find what you are looking for the farther in advance you book it.

Set a Budget

Retreats cost money—no surprise there! Your church women’s ministry budget may have a line item for retreats, and that’s great. But be prepared to possibly add to the cost of the retreat for your women because the use of a retreat center, food at the center, and the cost of a speaker adds up. Items to include in your budget: speaker fees and expenses, retreat center fees, food costs, activity costs, costs of decorations/handouts/gifts for attendees, etc. It’s also helpful to offer a scholarship for women who need it.

Speaker Fees

Related to that above, you’ll need to pay your speaker an honorarium for her time. She not only prepares the talks she gives, but she gives up her weekend to travel to your retreat. Some speakers charge a set fee per sessions; others might give you range of fee which she usually receives. In addition, you’ll need to reimburse her for travel expenses and provide room/board while she is away. Most churches also provide the speaker with a gift basket as a way of saying “thank you for coming.” Keep in mind that if she is flying, she may have limited space to bring back the coffee mug or church cookbook you give her. Items that can be used and consumed while she is at the retreat is helpful. Think water bottles, mints, snack bars, etc.

Know what Your Women Need

Speaking of the speaker, as you consider who should come speak to your women, it’s helpful to know your women. What do they need most? Is there a specific spiritual need that keeps popping up among your women? Is there an area of discipleship they might benefit from growing in? Or perhaps you have a theme for your ministry year. These are all factors which will help you in selecting a speaker for your retreat. Some speakers prefer to speak on topics they have already developed, and others will work off of a theme you already have in mind. Take the time to think through what your women need most before you talk with potential speakers.

Incorporate Times for Fellowship

A retreat is about getting away from the normal routines of life and enjoying fellowship with one another. As you plan the schedule for your retreat, be sure to include empty space for women to connect with one another. Consider asking various women to volunteer to take groups on different activities such as a hike or to explore the local town. In addition to this free time, also provide ways for women to fellowship through games/activities and discussion times. You can plan ice breaker activities for women to do at their tables during meals. You can have times of discussion after the speaker’s session to talk about what was learned. Photo booths are also fun! In all these ways, you create opportunities for women to develop richer friendships with one another.

Consider Retreat Alternatives

Retreats don’t all have to look the same way. The important thing is providing an opportunity for your women to learn and grow together. If you are in a small church and lack the resources to put on a retreat, consider teaming up with another church or two to pull resources together. Another way to do a retreat is to attend a conference together. Perhaps rent a house near the conference and spend your evenings discussing what everyone learned at the conference. If going out of town to a retreat center or hotel isn’t feasible, consider having the retreat at your church. My own church does this every other year. If you can’t afford a speaker, consider having a woman from your church speak or utilize recorded workshops from a conference or video lessons that come with a Bible study.

Retreats are one way to build a lasting bond among the women of your church. They take work to plan and execute but they are worth it!

Click here for more tips on retreat planning from CDM’s women’s ministry toolbox.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Christina Fox

Christina received her undergraduate degree from Covenant College and her Master’s Degree in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She is the content editor for enCourage and the author of several books, including A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope Through the Psalms of Lament Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ Helps Friendships to Flourish, Idols of a Mother’s Heart,  Sufficient Hope: Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Moms , A Holy Fear: Trading Lesser Fears for the Fear of the LordTell God How You Feel, and Like Our Father: How God Parents Us and Why that Matters for Our Parenting. She prefers her coffee black and from a French press, enjoys antiquing, hiking, traveling, and reading. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two boys where she serves in women’s ministry at East Cobb PCA. You can find her at, @christinarfox and on Facebook.