Ideas for Your Next Themed Meal

Tired of the same old meals served in the same old fashion at your event?  Consider having a themed meal (or meals) during your next retreat if your venue allows for the ability to change things up a bit!  Themed meals provide a fun environment to do what your guests will be doing anyway – eating!  They give you, as an event planner, a chance to showcase a creative side, hopefully creating an evening that will long be question markHere are a few ideas for a themed meal you can incorporate in your next event or as a stand-alone evening:

  1. Western Night – Pull out the hay bales, bandanas and cowboy hats as your guests dine on cuisine such as barbeque, ribs, chicken and all the fixings.  Decorate tables with checkered tablecloths, using Western themed items for centerpieces.  Have country music streaming in the background.  If you plan on making an evening out of it, consider hiring a square dance caller to give your guests a truly Western experience!  As an added touch, create invitations in the form of “Most Wanted” posters to hand out in the packet given to guests when they check-in for the retreat.
  2. Hawaiian Night – A luau is a relaxed way to experience dinner.  Decorations include colorful tablecloths, flowers, leis and grass skirts.  Hawaiian music can fill the background as your guests dine on chicken, pasta salads, fruit and other tropical treats.
  3. Italian Night – A pasta bar is the focal point of a night dedicated to Italian food.  Small café type tables can set the ambiance of an Italian restaurant.  Table decorations can include checkered tablecloths and large containers of dry pasta.
  4. Holiday Meals – If your event is in a month other than November or December, your guests could be in for a big surprise if they enter a dining room decorated for a holiday such as Christmas.  Decorations can be as detailed as putting up a tree and lights or as simple as holiday tablecloths and Christmas carols playing.  A home-cooked meal of turkey, ham, dressing and all the sides can add to the feel of the holiday meal.  If you want to give your guests something they can take home, create an ornament commemorating the event to give to each guest.

These are just a few ideas you could implement in your next event.  There are many activities you could add to make an entire evening of your meal.  You might want to inform your guests of your themes before your event if you want them to dress in certain attire for the meal.

Have you had themed meals at one of your events?  If so, comment in the section below with your ideas!

Creating A Prayer Station Experience

Guided prayer can be a great addition to a variety of worship events.  It can take on a lot of different forms.  One such idea is utilizing prayer stations.  Prayer stations are “stops” in a guided prayer experience in which people are asked to pray in a certain way or for a specific request.  These can be very intimate times of worship for participants.
Praying HandsOver the years, I have enjoyed creating prayer station experiences that are tactile in nature, asking participants to create as they pray.  Here are a few of my favorite station ideas compiled from different events and websites.  At each station (these could be different areas in a room or separate rooms entirely), post signs with instructions on how to complete each activity.

  • The Call to Confess:  In preparation for this station, fill bowls with sand and place them on a table.  Write a word or symbol in the sand in front of you representing something you need to confess.  Confess your sin to God.  As you pray, pass your hand through the sand, obliterating these words or symbols as a sign of accepting God’s forgiveness.
  • The Call to Share:  In preparation for this station, hang a clothesline in the room.  Write the name or initials of someone you know who needs a relationship with God on an index card.  Hang this name from the clothesline.  Pray, asking God to give you the strength to share Jesus with this person.
  • The Call to Intercede:  Take pipe cleaners and craft something you are praying for.  As you spend time making this, pray for God to work in this situation.  When you are finished, take your creation and lay it at the foot of the cross.  (Have a wooden cross in the corner of this station.)
  • The Call to Surrender:  In preparation for this station, post a large piece of butcher paper on the wall with the words “I Surrender” on it.  Write something you need to surrender to God on a post-it note.  Stick this note on the “I Surrender…” wall.  While you post your note, spend time praying for a few others you see, as well.
  • The Call to Adore:  On a board or large piece of paper hanging on the wall, write words describing who God is and how He has revealed Himself to you.  Spend a few moments praising God that He is all these things written on the wall – and so much more!

These are just a few prayer stations you can adapt for your next event.  Have you used prayer stations?  If so, what are some of your favorite stops in this type of guided prayer experience?  Share in the comments section below.

Online Media Resources

Some churches and organizations are blessed with a staff member designated to media, someone who can create videos, still backgrounds, motion backgrounds, countdowns and other graphics.  For those groups who might not have these people right down the hall to create media for their next service or event, there are a number of online resources specializing in these exact things.  Here are a few you can look at when preparing for your next event.

  1. Igniter Media – Igniter Media offers mini-movies, as well as stills and motions including countdowns, backgrounds, title graphics and multi-screen options.  You can subscribe as a monthly or yearly member to download great media options.
  2. Worship House Media – Worship House Media offers many of the same projects as Igniter Media.  Here you can download media a la carte from their website.
  3. Floodgate Productions – Floodgate Productions, like Igniter Media and Worship House Media, offers mini-movies and various motion options.  They offer a pay-per-video option or a yearly subscription service.  For smaller churches of 30 to 75 adults, they offer a discount in order to get videos/media into churches who might not be able to otherwise afford it.
  4. The Skit Guys – The Skit Guys offer their own comedic videos plus additional videos and motions at their website.
  5. Wing Clips – Wing Clips is an online resource offering movie clips you might need to help illustrate your theme or message.  You can search by movie title, Scripture, movie category or theme on their website.

One of the great things about each of these websites is you can preview videos before you buy them.  Doing this can often spark ideas for ways to incorporate your theme or message into other parts of your event, as well.

It is important to note there are licensing agreements you must adhere to with each different online company you use to download media.  These can be found on their websites, along with help sections to assist you in downloading your media content.

What online sources do you use to download media for your events?  Share them with us in the comments section below!

Creating an Unforgettable Photo Booth

Retro Photo BoothChances are, if you’ve looked at Facebook or Instagram, you’ve seen pictures from a photo booth set up at a wedding or other celebration.  Let’s face it:  photo booths are a lot of fun!  They allow people to relax, smile and capture a fun memory or two. Whether you are planning an adult retreat, a youth event or a family night, photo booths can be implemented in a variety of ways.  Here are a few tips when planning a photo booth:

  1. Backdrop – Backdrops can be as simple or elaborate as you want.  The easiest backdrop to utilize is a plain wall if one is available.  A colorful sheet or large paper background (such as wrapping paper or butcher paper) are simple ways to create a basic backdrop.  For those wanting something more, walls of streamers, balloons or other festive decorations provide great backgrounds.  (If a photo booth is a large attraction at your event, you can hire companies to come in and take pictures in front of a green screen and add numerous backgrounds to these later.)
  2. Props – Props are a must for a photo booth!  These can include hats, costume jewelry, sunglasses, large frames, chalkboards to write messages on, etc.    If the event is themed, create props reflecting that theme to add a more relevant approach to your booth.
  3. Taking Photos – Photo booths don’t usually need a lot of manpower to run.  As an event planner, you need to decide if you will take pictures and post them, if guests will use their own smartphones/cameras to snap pictures or if you will have a combination of both.  Even if your guests will take their own pictures, have a few volunteers on standby to assist guests in taking pictures.  (Don’t let this be another time when one family member or friend has to miss being in the picture because he or she is taking the picture.)
  4. Posting Photos – If you are taking photos at the booth, provide a way for these pictures to be printed at your event.  You can do this with photo printers, or you can outsource this to companies who provide Instagram print stations.  Make sure all pictures posted by guests have the event hashtag associated with them. You can also scroll pictures taken on screens while guests are gathering for a session.

If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, some companies now even offer Slow Motion Video Booths.  Instead of taking a still picture, these booths capture video of you and your group and set it in slow motion.  Though this comes with a larger price tag, this will be something your group will be talking about for some time.

Just because photo booths have been around for awhile doesn’t mean they aren’t still fun.  Think of ways to add creative elements to your booth to make it different from other photo booths done before!

The Power of a Smile

A few years ago I had the privilege of attending a conference at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  The Broadmoor is a beautiful hotel with luxurious accommodations.  However, while I enjoyed the chocolate on my pillow each night, the amazing holiday decorations and the beautiful grounds, these weren’t the first things I told my husband about after I returned.  The one thing, above all else, I remember about the Broadmoor is the staff.  Every staff member, no matter his or her employment position, spoke to me and smiled.  It didn’t matter how busy they were or where they were headed – each person was trained to speak to guests and offer a warm smile.  They had great customer service.golden leaderDave Ramsey recently tweeted, “If you are happy notify your face. Others around you will be glad you did.”  I can’t imagine every employee at the Broadmoor was happy the entire time I was there.  However, I never saw a side of them that showed otherwise.  They were consistent in their attitudes towards guests.

I have often thought back to that conference, especially when preparing for an event or in the midst of hosting a conference.  Here are a few questions I now ask myself before, during and after the event:

  1. Am I truly happy to be a part of this event?  (If not, why am I spending my time planning, directing, hosting, evaluating, etc?)
  2. Do my guests visibly see my excitement for this event?  (If not, how can I adjust my attitudes and actions to reflect my enthusiasm?)
  3. Is my positive attitude reflected in other event staff and volunteers?  (If not, what type of environment am I fostering for my team?  Am I creating a contagious mood of excitement?)
  4. When plans don’t go as expected, is my reaction met with a smile and a sense of calm?  (If not, how can I better prepare for the unexpected?)

How are you reflecting your attitudes about the conferences and events you are planning?  Others will sense your feelings and most likely emulate them.   Choose today to make a conscious effort to smile and say a nice word to all of your guests at your next event.  From registration to meal times to large group sessions, instill a sense of excitement among your event team.  I guarantee your guests will notice!

Choosing the Right Date for Your Event

There are 365 days in most years.  Know what that means?  There are 365 possible dates for you to plan an event and even more if you factor in an overnight retreat.  That’s a lot of choices!

Calendar with numbers, green thumbtack, recycled paper
How can you know which dates are best for your event?  While there is no perfect formula, here are a few things you should keep in mind when choosing an event date.

  1. Is there a major holiday directly during or immediately before or after the proposed event?  These usually come with travel, family get-togethers and often overbooked schedules, so try to avoid interfering with these times (unless your event is holiday-focused).
  2. Is there a large event occurring in your community during this time?  If so, you might end up competing with this or asking people to choose between a neighborhood event and your event, something best not to do.  An Internet search of “your city” and “events” should give you an idea of what is scheduled.
  3. Have you checked the school calendar?  If you are planning a large-scale event with people from many cities or states, this might be a little harder.  However, look at the areas from which you wish to draw the largest groups of people.  Key dates to look at include back-to-school, winter and spring breaks and graduations.
  4. Are other national events occurring during the proposed event time?  These could include, but are not limited to, elections and sporting events such as the Final Four and the Super Bowl.
  5. Is this an event you want to schedule at the same time every year?  If so, consider a time that can easily be repeated annually.

If there is one thing I have learned in event planning, it’s that you won’t be able to accommodate the schedule of everyone who wants to attend.  This is an impossible task.  Choose the date or dates that work best for the greatest number of people, and be confident as you promote your event.  Early planning on your part might give you an advantage as people plan their upcoming schedules.

A Word of Encouragement

We all need encouragement.  Retreats often provide a great opportunity for spiritual renewal and foster an environment for encouragement.  Not every event lends itself to set times for encouragement, but if yours does, consider incorporating an activity that allows participants to encourage and be encouraged.Thank YouHere are a few ideas for encouragement activities you can do at your next retreat:

  1. A Pat on the Back:  Tape a piece of paper on each participant’s back.  Have all the participants write an encouraging word describing that person on the paper with a marker.  When everyone has written on each person’s back, they can take the paper off and spend a few moments reading what others wrote.  (Note:  this activity requires a little bit of space and light activity as participants walk around to write on each back.)
  2. Snapshot of Encouragement:  This activity is similar to the one described above with a few twists.   One-by-one, have each participant sit with his/her back to a dry-erase board.  The other participants write a word describing that person on the board.  When everyone has finished, take a photo of the person sitting in front of the dry-erase board and then erase it.  After the retreat, print and mail or email these pictures to each participant.  (Note:  this activity takes a bit longer since each person goes one-by-one.  You may need to divide your group into smaller numbers depending on your size.)
  3. Secret Messages:  Before your retreat, write each participant’s name on a manila envelope.  Hang these on a wall or bulletin board in a common area.  Throughout your event, have participants write encouraging notes to each other on provided slips of paper, and place each of these notes in the corresponding envelopes.  At the end of your retreat, give each participant his/her envelope.  (Note:  Announce this activity at the opening of your retreat so the participants will have ample time to write notes.  Encourage each participant to write a note for everyone attending.)

These are just a few encouragement activities you can try at your next retreat.  While these are designed for smaller events, you can adjust how these are implemented to accommodate larger groups.  The easiest way to do this is to divide your group into smaller numbers.  As an added bonus, these activities provide a tangible take-home for participants to remember the retreat.  Make sure to include yourself (as the event planner) in this activity too!  Even you can use a word of encouragement, especially in the hustle and bustle of your retreat.

Creating a Great Stage Design, Part Two

In continuation of our last blog post about creating great stage designs, Jordon Rudesill, Director of Service Programming at The Journey Church, shares insights into designing effective, portable stages for your next retreat.  Here are the last four key points I learned from our discussion.

studio in old wooden room

  1. Utilize various materials for different stage sets.  Coroplast sheets are a good option.  They come in different colors, are lightweight and are extremely durable.  Recyclable materials are also a good choice – pallets, construction materials, cardboard tubes, etc.  If you have the ability to use lighting, find material that reflects light well or that allows light to shine through, almost giving it a glow.
  2. Keep it local. Don’t think you have to do everything on your own.  There are people around you who love to design and build things.  Allow them to use their gifts in a different sort of outlet than how they typically employ their skills.
  3. Consider a generic stage set.  If you will need your set for more than one event, want to put a little more money into creating something “bigger” for your stage or have a small budget for a number of events, consider something you can use over and over again.  By doing this, you can tweak little parts of it to go with different event themes.
  4. If you can’t build it, why not print it?  Banners, posters and pop-up displays are an easy way to bring your theme to life as you plan your set.  They can be a focal point or can serve as space fillers on the stage.  These can be as generic or as event-specific as you desire.  In addition, if you want to print large posters yourself, you can do this with free online programs such as Block Posters and PosteRazor.  These programs allow you to print large size images by breaking them into smaller sheets of paper and then adhering them together.  While this requires a bit of hands-on work, the result can be quite remarkable.

Designing a set can be a bit of a daunting task if it’s something out of your usual routine. However, there are great online resources to help you as you brainstorm for your next event.  These include and

Thanks to Jordon Rudesill for his insight on creating great stage designs!  If you have any tips of your own, please share them in the comments section.

Creating a Great Stage Design, Part One

Paint CanIt was supposed to be an awesome stage set complementing our camp theme, “Under Construction.”  Aesthetically, it looked great!  Practically, it was an absolute nightmare!  The set depicted a wall of a house undergoing construction.  There were exposed wall studs, a few hanging wires, unfinished sheetrock, etc.  This part was easily portable.  The problem came when I thought it would be a grand idea to stack empty paint cans (at least 50 of them) on the sides of the wall to add a little “extra” to the set.  Our camp was going to be smaller than we had anticipated, so in order to create a more intimate environment our set was on the floor and not elevated on a stage.  We needed this same floor space for other activities; thus, several times each day my staff had to move the set.  Moving the set included unstacking and restacking every single paint can.  Every.  Single.  Paint.  Can.  What was supposed to be a great design turned into a programming disaster!

Recently I spoke with Jordon Rudesill, Director of Service Programming at The Journey Church in Murray, KY.  The Journey holds its weekly services on the campus of Murray State University, meaning the stage set has to be set up and taken down each week.  Here are four of eight key points I learned from Jordon on creating a great stage design.

  1. Adapt your design to the audience you will be reaching.  Kids love elaborate stage designs, such as the ones often seen during VBS.  Most adults don’t need a set like this to stay engaged.   Know your audience.
  2. Create something to enhance the service but not take away from the speaker and message.  If your set is a distraction to your group, you have not designed your stage well.  Sometimes simple is better.
  3. Make your stage lightweight.   Ask yourself, “Will those setting up and tearing down be able to easily lift the set?  How is this going to fit together on stage?  How will we store this?  How will we transport this?”
  4. Don’t allow your stage design to break your event budget.  Sometimes being restricted by money makes you become even more creative!  You can often find materials to “recycle” for use in your set.

Stay tuned for part two of this blog post where I will share the last four points I learned from Jordon, including great online resources for design ideas, recommendations for construction materials and more!

Beyond the “Hello, My Name Is…”

We recently blogged about effectively designing name badges.  When done right, name badges can be a great tool for your event.  When done incorrectly, they can be a distraction and something attendees purposefully “forget” to wear.  Name badges are often considered a necessary evil, but they don’t have to be!

Here are a few ways you can utilize name badges for more than their intended purpose.

  1. Meal Tickets.  If the event is being held in a location requiring meal tickets for entry into the dining facility, consider using name badges to serve that purpose.  Talk with the event host to see if this is a possibility.  This is best utilized if the entire group is on the same meal schedule; however, there are ways to differentiate between guests with varying meal plans.  Consider a different color lanyard or name badge background for each meal plan.
  2. VIPs.  Do you have particular guests that might need “special attention?”  Perhaps these people can charge items on the conference tab, such as at the location’s coffee shop or office center.  Certain guests might need easy access to backstage areas or the green room.  Attach a badge ribbon or sticker to the name badge of these people in order to differentiate them from other attendees.
  3. Small Groups.  Will guests break out into pre-arranged small groups during the event?  Note the group an attendee will be in on the corner of the name badge.  This will take a little extra preparation time, but it is an easy way to quickly divide into groups.  (How many times have you tried to number off a group only to find half of the people forget their number by the end of the line?  This is a helpful way to solve that dilemma!)

Name badges serve a primary purpose:  they tell us your name.  With a little creativity, however, you can make use of these conference staples for additional purposes.  Keep these two things in mind if you want to go “beyond the name badge.”  First, too much information can distract from the name.  Choose one or two extras to add, if needed.  Second, and most importantly, the key in successful extra uses of a name badge is communication between your leadership and your event host location.  For example, don’t assume you can use name badges as meal tickets without talking with the host location.  (And, if you are the host location, make sure you communicate with the dining facility if the typical meal ticket required is done differently.)

Have you used name badges for something extra in an event?  If so, share those ideas with us in the comments section.