How to Plan a Retreat: Coming up with a Theme

How to Plan a Retreat: Coming up With a Theme

The last time we chatted about how to plan a retreat, we talked a little about the beginning of the process. What kinds of roles you might need, what kinds of things to think about before you jumped in, feet first. If you’d like to tune in to a podcast episode about defining your theme, and coming up with content for your retreat, take a listen to episode 126 (Content Planning and Strategy for your Blog, Podcast, or Retreat).:

The next thing on our list is coming up with the theme. It’s a big deal, so it will get a whole entry to itself. I’ve done brainstorming on themes both individually, and in a group, and it works well both ways. Here are some of the things I consider as I look for the theme.

How to Plan a Retreat: Coming up with a Theme

First, who’s your audience?
Outcome: One line description of who the retreat is for
We talked about this a little before, but knowing who will be attending is often the fastest way of reaching the “what” part of this question … as in, “what” will you talk about? The audience will help determine how appropriate certain themes are. While many themes are universal, the audience may also help inform the angle you take on theme. “God’s Love” is a great topic for everyone, but you might choose to focus on Noah if your weekend is with 8th Graders, and use the parable of the Prodigal Son for other groups. Certainly metaphors and examples would be very different in reaching a group of new mothers versus a retreat for newly retired men. The “new” part is the same, so “change” and how to face times of transitions could be things you address with both groups. But how you approach the topic might be very different.

Come Up With One Word to Describe your Theme
Outcome: A Single Word to Guide Your Work
The theme itself should be fairly broad, so it gives you enough proverbial space to play in as your retreat reveals itself. You should pick a topic, and have your team agree on that one thing. The theme could be a single word like “love” or “change” or “mercy.” These are all great starting points. Or, you could focus on a subject or interest for a retreat, and pick something like “scrap booking,” “adoption,” or “fishing” as the central topic. You’ll want to make sure its a broad enough theme that it will appeal to people, and be something your planning team (or you) have passion for.

Start Brainstorming the Outline of Your Retreat
Outcome: A Sentence that Describes What Retreatants Can Expect From Their Experience
This part is a bit of a challenge. You’ve decided on a direction, but you’re not far enough along in planning to know exactly what you’ll be doing with your whole retreat. Fear not, the specifics will fall in to place. For now, have your team talk in broad strokes about what will happen. You will brain storm for a bit, but don’t get bogged down in planning the details, just talk about the outline of you’d like to do with your retreat.

If your theme is change, maybe you know you’ll want to have time for journaling, a worship service, and have a lady in your group talk about a significant change she went through. Perhaps you already know that through your church, you’ll have access to pastoral counselors, and an artist that leads workshops on expressing life’s changes in charcoal drawings. Maybe you’ll have access to some outdoor activities based on where your retreat is being held that you can incorporate, like hiking, meditation gardens, or even a labyrinth.

From this list of items you know you’ll be planning, you can have the team craft a sentence or two like “A weekend retreat that will include journaling, spiritual direction, quiet time for reflection and worship in the beauty of the foothills. Linda Smith will be joining us for a special breakout session on channeling the impact of change through art.”

Finally, Find the Hook
Outcome: A tag line that grabs people’s attention, and makes them want to read more
Most likely, you’re going to be printing fliers for your retreat, or putting a notice in the Church bulletin, maybe sending out an email to your young adults group. One thing to think about as you’re still in the planning stages is finding a “hook” and using that for your “tag line” for the day or weekend. You want to find something that grabs a potential attendee’s attention, and makes them want to learn more about your day.

Let’s look at examples … recently my team decided that we wanted to do a retreat on reconnecting with God, and finding ways to spend time with God. If you put that on a brochure or flier, people might think “meh.” But when we brainstormed a little, we came up with the idea of using a popular topic of the time, and tying that closely with our big idea, leading us to “Renewing and Recycling our Spiritual Connection with God.” An upcoming retreat I’m leading is called “Spiritual Pilates: Strengthening our Spiritual Core,” and a favorite title for a talk at women’s retreat from my friend Kathleen was “Protecting your Princess Heart in a Not So Fairy Tale World.” These each have strong similarities; the titles tie in with something familiar, something that we culturally relate to, but then it turns that thing on its head.

Once your team has come up with this catchy title, you’re ready to move on to …

Find a Quote or Passage that Relates to Your One Word Theme
Outcome: A Passage to Include in Fliers and to Help Center Your Message
This part can be easy since we now all have access to teh interwebs. I encourage you or a team member to do a quick search on Google for a quote around the single word you all chose earler. You can do this by simply typing in “quote, Bible, Change” or “quote, famous, change” or some variation thereof. A quick search found these quotes quite quickly:
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” – Nelson Mandela
“The principle is competing against yourself. It’s about self-improvement, about being better than you were the day before.” – Steve Young

Take one of these, or another one that your team likes, and agree that it will help inspire you all as you move forward. It’s something you can put on your flier now, and keep at hand as you work together towards the retreat. You’re making great progress!

In this series on “How to Plan a Retreat”
The Beginning: Figuring out the Who and Where, and Defining Roles

Check out the rest of this “Plan a Retreat” series:

How to Plan a Retreat: The Beginning
How to Plan a Retreat: Coming up with a Theme
How to Plan a Retreat: Putting Together a Timeline
How to Plan a Retreat: Making the Flyer
How to Plan a Retreat: Using Your Resources
How to Plan a Retreat: Marketing the Retreat

If you’re working on planning a retreat, check out this podcast episode:

Sign up and receive a free retreat planning worksheet:

3 thoughts on “How to Plan a Retreat: Coming up With a Theme”

  1. Pingback: How to Plan a Retreat: The Beginning | Welcoming Spirit

Comments are closed.