April 2, 2012

[Book Excerpt]: Women's Retreats: A Creative Planning Guide


Define Your Purpose: Why Retreat?

How often are you still?

How often do you stop your daily routine, putting down your to-do list to focus on knowing God? How often do you assess the direction of your life and relationships? Remember, according to Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” But the pace of new millennium life chokes stillness and self-examination.

How can we know God if we seldom stop to look at Him? How can our lives be balanced and joyful if we seldom stop to take account? Women’s ministries that transform lives plan periodic times away for women to be still, to draw closer to their Creator and to each other. We call these days away retreats. To “retreat” means to draw back to a place of refuge, privacy, or safety, sometimes to escape danger or difficulty.

A retreat will offer a place where women have an opportunity to share their lives with one another, as Paul did when he told the Thessalonians, “We are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves” (1 Thess. 2:8 NRSV). Yes, the gospel of Christ is shared—believing women have the chance to model, perhaps even discuss, their faith with visiting friends and nonbelievers who attend. And a retreat allows women to open their hearts to new friends, inviting them to enjoy a unique camaraderie.

An American Custom

Most evangelical churches in America sponsor an annual retreat for women. Women who feel part of the community look forward to spending several days relaxing with friends and hearing an inspirational speaker. Confident newcomers see the retreat as an opportunity to plug into a new church home. But women on the fringes, seekers, and nonbelievers are often reluctant to spend several days with people they don’t know well. They aren’t sure they will be comfortable talking about “spiritual things.” You may hear them use excuses such as “I’m not a retreat person.”

How do we woo them to join us? How do we ensure that the “old timers” will reach out and embrace the newcomers? How do we set the stage for life transformation and “fork-in-the-road” decisions? How do we create an authentic atmosphere of relaxation and fun while focusing on the major purpose—an encounter with the living God? We wrote this book to answer these and other related questions.

We’ll show you how to unleash the creative gifts of women who make life-size decorations, write and act in dramas, create worship that complements the teaching and theme, lead connecting groups, and participate in a plethora of other ministry opportunities. We’ll give you a timetable to help you avoid last-minute hassles and conflict. We’ll give pointers on recruiting volunteers, staying within a budget, picking a place and negotiating contracts, and choosing the right speaker. As you delegate the details, you’ll enlist an army to share the joy of blessing women now and for eternity. And we’ll even show you how to train your attendees to open their arms and set a welcome atmosphere for all.

Show, Don’t Tell

Possibly the most helpful section of this book is part 2. Here we present five actual retreats with “how to” instructions for programming, sets, decorations, drama, and games. We’ll help you market these retreat themes to attract your women without giving away the surprises that are revealed once they arrive. You can tweak these ideas to fit your size, setting, and budget. We’ll include instructions for large and small groups.

Who’s Coming?

Women’s retreats are usually open to all the women of the church. Women today lead different lives from the sixties homemakers with 2.2 children. Almost 70 percent of Christian women work outside the home either full- or part-time, including almost 40 percent of mothers with preschool children. Thirty-six percent of women are single.2 A healthy women’s ministry attempts to help women know and enjoy each other, even at different ages and stages. In addition, women often like to invite friends, family, or coworkers, and sometimes these guests are unchurched, and even hostile, to faith. Women come with different agendas, perspectives, and expectations. Our challenge is to minister to them all—and we can!

The Nonbeliever

Women in the church are encouraged to invite their unbelieving friends to their retreat. They know that these friends and other visitors will be exposed to a community of real Christians. Such an experience will help break down stereotypes and introduce Jesus to them in a nonthreatening way. For many postmodern women, an “in your face” kind of evangelism is counterproductive. They are the “Oprah generation,” many seeking spiritual alternatives and buying into radical feminism. But living in the midst of authentic community for several days is a powerful tool to reveal the true Christ and cause women to reflect on God, their lives, and choices.

The Stressed-out Woman

“It is estimated that seventy percent of all physician office visits are for stressrelated illnesses. Workers in the United States consume fifteen tons of aspirin every day,” writes counselor Dr. Elizabeth Baker. (3) Stress haunts every woman to some degree, and many do not know how to effectively fight it. A full forty-eight hours or more, away from everyday struggles and schedules, relaxing and communing with God, can be just what the doctor ordered. Why is extended time away so critical? Our health, both physical and spiritual, sometimes depends on it.

“It is not stress in itself that damages us, but unrelenting stress. . . . It is our failure to regularly retreat from the front lines that creates trouble. Observing our normal routine and planning times of retreat between peak stress times can help us recharge and prevent damage before it begins.” A women’s retreat is one way to help women who need prolonged mental and spiritual rest. It provides solitude, time meditating on God and His works, unscheduled hours for naps, games, reading, and moments to share with friends. “We must leave the rat race to the rats. Instead, we carve out times of rest for our bodies and practice times of peace for our souls.”

The Newcomer

Millions of Americans relocate each year. For Christians that means leaving behind a history and finding a new church, acclimating to a new community where no one knows them, their gifts, or ministry experience. It takes time to feel at home and discover new friends. A retreat can jumpstart the adjustment. But we must be intentional in making newcomers feel welcome and comfortable. It won’t happen unless we plan carefully and train women to reach out.

The Woman in Crisis

Shattered marriages, abuse, layoffs, runaway teens, cancer, infertility—there are hundreds of circumstances that afflict women today. Where can they go for healing, direction, and the energy to persevere? Several days with a group of supportive women that points to an ongoing, intimate relationship with Jesus can make all the difference.

The Fence-Sitter

It’s easy to live with one foot in the church and one foot in the world. Pew warmers come and sit Sunday after Sunday without unmasking, connecting, or serving. They live with their boyfriends and steal from their bosses. They know their lifestyle choices don’t mesh with what the preacher says, but they ignore what they don’t want to hear. They want Jesus and they want their lives to change, but often they don’t know how, and, of course, they resist changing what the flesh enjoys. The Holy Spirit can use a retreat setting to break through resistance. A block of time in the midst of committed women, hearing biblical, convicting messages from a gifted speaker can get women off the fence and change the direction of their lives.

The Outcast

A healthy church welcomes women of different races and economic backgrounds. Women raised in poverty and abuse often feel estranged from women who have never gone hungry or hidden in the closet from a drunken or drugged family member. A lovely Hispanic woman in our church wondered whether she would be accepted when the women learned of her former
career—stripping in a local nightclub and prostitution. She had left that life behind and was working hard to overcome past sexual abuse that made her childhood a nightmare. Sobs of relief punctuated her testimony when she finally realized she was forgiven by God and embraced by her sisters. Create an atmosphere where women can find forgiveness at the retreat and change the life of the outcast forever.

The Wallflower

God has given the women in your church all the gifts required for a transforming women’s ministry. But in some churches, those gifts lie dormant— tragically, sometimes forever. Women remain on the sidelines, fearful of getting involved. However, to enjoy the abundant Christian life, they must get into the dance. They must identify and develop those gifts, and you can help. A women’s retreat is a time to investigate and discover those gifts because the fun-filled atmosphere tends to lessen inhibitions and fears. Women who would never sing, dance, or participate in a skit in a more formal church setting may give it a try at a retreat. Women who are afraid of making a longterm commitment will help out with the short-term involvement at a retreat. They know if they don’t like it, they can easily say no next year. Wallflowers are often discovered at retreats and enter into a fuller experience in the life of the church from then on.

The Potential Leader

Retreats are a great training ground for future leaders. If a woman serves faithfully making name tags, you can see how she handles registration the next year. With so many new women coming into our churches each year, the retreat offers a place for women leaders to watch for future team captains and ministry managers. If your ministry is led by a lay board or team, you can observe workers that you may want to recruit to head up ministries later.

How Does a Retreat Change Lives?

Women attend retreats with certain expectations. What will they learn, who will they meet, how much sleep can they catch up on (or lose)? A transforming retreat will focus on three things:

  1. The Truths of Scripture: However your retreat is organized, there should be solid teaching from the Word. A keynote speaker, workshops, small group discussions—any and all of these can teach scriptural principles and truths.
  2. Worship: A good retreat will facilitate an atmosphere of worship—in song, prayer, meditation, and study. We’ll give you some tips on how to help your women truly worship.
  3. Fun: Let the women relax! We’ll show you how to be highly organized without being overbearing and overscheduled. Give the women opportunities for free time as well as organized fun activities.

Note: A Retreat Is Not . . .

Let us take this moment to affirm that a quality women’s retreat is not a forum for excessive emotion, a means to evoke strong sentimental reactions. Such “mountain high” experiences, we have learned, provide temporary euphoria but are actually exhausting, unrefreshing, and never truly relaxing. Women are emotional creatures, and we do expect some tears to flow at times, but we do not plan events in order to create such an emotional memory. Better to let God’s Word touch their hearts in a permanent way.

Excerpted from chapter one of Women's Retreats: A Creative Planning Guide (Kregel, 2004) by Sue Edwards, Kelley Mathews & Linda Robinson.

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Originally Published: April 2, 2012
Category: Women
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