Three Outdoor Prayer Activities

“The word of God is the food by which prayer is nourished and made strong.” E. M. Bounds

Giving people the opportunity for prayer is a wonderful and refreshing gift. Here are a few outdoor activities that you might use to incorporate prayer into your next event.

  1. Prayer station(s). Choose a topic, or a verse or verses, and create stations that complement them. For example, if you are talking about sin, you might have someone consider, and confess their sin, and then pour water from a pitcher into a bowl filled with stones. Pouring water might help someone reflect on how God is the only Being in the universe who can cleanse us from our sin, and how pure we are in His sight because of Jesus, and what a gift that is. Even simple, physical acts can help us more deeply understand or consider God’s Word.  There are books and articles and blog posts about prayer stations, you can look to them for ideas, or create your own.
  2. Prayer walk. Physical activity, like walking or running can help us still our minds and focus.  Choose a topic that you would like people to focus on in prayer, and then choose a route. It could be around a campus or small town, or at different places in a large field or building. Create a handout for participants that shows each station and include instructions on what to pray about at each spot.
  3. Prayer garden. Find a beautiful location, and use it as a prayer garden. It could be a secluded area with a fountain, a formal flower garden, or a large vegetable plot that you deem a prayer garden for a short time. Set up places to sit, like benches, chairs, or even large blankets.  You can hand out prayer instructions, or place them in the garden in a noticeable location.

A few tips. As the quote above suggests, using God’s Word is an excellent way to guide and stimulate prayer. Provide scripture on signs, or handouts for all your participants. Suggest that people bring along something to write with. Writing can help people focus their thoughts, especially if they aren’t used to praying for more than a few minutes at a time. Once you have the prayer activity set up, allow a small group of people to give it a test run. This will help you work out kinks, and decide if you need to have volunteers “manning” particular locations.

How have you used prayer activities in an event? We’d love to know!

Icebreaker Questions

Have you ever been in a meeting or small group session where no one talks?  The silence can be quite daunting for the meeting facilitator.  It can also be frustrating for those in attendance who may not want to be the first to speak.  How can you fix this dilemma?

Question Mark ConceptIcebreaker questions are a great way to start off a small group time.  All of the participants can play a part in answering these questions, hopefully promoting an open environment for them to share once the main topics of the meeting are discussed.  Depending on the group size, you can break off into smaller groups or talk about these as a whole.

If your groups are sitting around tables, questions can be on slips of paper placed in a basket.  If your groups are less formal, you, as the facilitator, can simply ask one question at a time or give each group a handout with questions.

Here is a list of great icebreaker questions to get your guests talking in your next small group time:

•    If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go?
•    If you had to give up one of your senses, which would it be?  Why?
•    Does your name have a special meaning and/or were you named after someone special?
•    If you had a time machine that would work only once, what point in the future or in history would you visit?
•    What did you want to be when you were little?
•    What is one of the things you would put on your “bucket” list?
•    What is the strangest thing you have ever eaten?
•    What do you keep in the trunk of your car?
•    If you could be any animal in the world for 24 hours, which animal would you be?  Why?
•    If you could snap your fingers and appear somewhere else, where would you be?
•    If you could control the weather in your area for the next five days, what would the forecast be?
•    Which Olympic sport would you most like to win a gold medal in?  Why?
•    If you had to choose between never getting your hair cut and never getting your nails cut, which would you choose?
•    If you could change any restaurant into an all-you-can-eat buffet, which restaurant would you choose?

If you’re stumped for more questions and own a smartphone, there are even apps to quickly find icebreaker questions!

Organizing Service To Go

Building a time of community service into an event is not a new idea. Doing it well is a challenge. Service can be a great opportunity for deepening community, and for discipleship. If you’re considering adding a time of service to your faith-based event, follow these steps.

Make the connection obvious. Pair the type of service with the event theme. A youth leader training group could serve an outreach center to teens. Or, you could do any type of service and make it clear that you would be teaching the leaders how to lead a team of people in service during the outreach.

Stay Close. Look for opportunities to serve close to the event venue. Clean up, painting, yard work and food service are typical opportunities. Check around for a smaller school or public institution close to your event location and ask how you might be able to help. Is your event profession specific? If you have engineers, nurses, firemen etc… consider how you might tap their unique skills.

Modeling. Believers should be in service in their communities on a regular basis. So, don’t go about this as a “punch card” experience- “I did my service for the year and now have photos of it to post on Facebook.” Find people who serve regularly and appoint them as group leaders. They can model compassion, truth and joy in the sometimes uncomfortable and tricky situations that arise during community outreach.

Logistics. Vans, drivers, snacks, water, permits, reflective vests, supplies, waivers, appointments. What will you need to do ahead of time so that the morning, afternoon or few hours of service will go smoothly?

A service experience can provide a unique opportunity for bonding and modeling in a believer’s life. Weaving this into an event is challenging and rewarding. Have you taken a group out for service during an event? What did you do? What will you do differently next time?

Rainy Day Ideas

How often has this scenario come to life in your student event planning?

You’ve planned a perfect afternoon of outdoor camp activities.  You’ve got everything set up and are just waiting for your group to come and enjoy the festivities.  And then, the thunder rolls, the lightning strikes and the rain begins to fall.  Your perfect outdoor activities are rained out.

Child Rainy DayWhat do you do when your camp activities are cancelled due to rain?  As much as you watch the weather forecast and even pray for a dry day, there is one thing that will always be certain…weather is unpredictable.  Storms can arise when we least expect them.  As an event planner, you should be prepared for the unexpected, especially when it comes to rainy day activities.  Here are a few ideas you can have on hand when the weather might alter your plans.

•    Board Games – Bring an assortment of board games to the retreat for a relaxed afternoon of indoor fun.  These could also be placed in a lobby for late night game time.
•    Movie Day – One of the easiest things to do on a rainy day is to show a movie.  Make sure to have a movie that is appropriate for all guests.
•    Local Attractions – If there are indoor, local attractions such as museums, shopping centers or family-fun centers, you could spend a rainy afternoon here.  Keep in mind there may be an added cost for some of these places.
•    Rainy Day Games – A list of games to play indoors is great to have on hand when your outdoor activity might be delayed but not completely cancelled due to weather.  These could include an indoor scavenger hunt, large group games or team-building activities.  A great online resource can be found at Ultimate Camp Resource.
•    Crafts – Indoor activities such as making jewelry, scrapbooking or painting stones can offer a low-key rainy day alternative for your more crafty guests.
•    Play in the Rain – Not all of your outdoor activities have to be cancelled just because it is raining.  Consider going forth with your outdoor plans if the activity will still be safe for all those participating.

Rain doesn’t have to ruin your retreat!  Be prepared with a few alternative ideas for your guests just in case weather forces you to change your plans.  And, rain isn’t the only type of weather that might make you alter your plans.  Excessive cold or heat can also be a factor in your outdoor plans.

What rainy day activities do you like to provide for your guests when inclement weather arises?  Comment in the section below!

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.

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!

Lend a Helping Hand

Volunteer PostWhen you sit down to plan a retreat, thoughts typically turn to how your group will be served.  Main sessions.  Breakout topics.  Meals.  Schedules.  Free time.  The to-do list can seem endless.  For your next event, why not consider planning an afternoon for your guests to serve others?  Volunteering in the community is a great way to get retreat attendees moving and provides an avenue for team building, all while doing something to help in a tangible way.  Not all retreats lend themselves to this type of activity; however, if there is availability and you are looking for a different way to spend an afternoon, think about these things as you plan for your community service time.

Think variety.  Not all of your attendees will want to do yard work, paint a room or help serve a meal.  Some might prefer visiting a nursing home, talking with a homeless person or picking up litter.  Offer a few different options appealing to a variety of people.  An Internet search of “volunteer opportunities” and the area of your retreat can often open up an array of outlets for your group to serve.  If your event location is more remote, talk with area churches or the retreat center to find possible service projects.

Think supplies.  If you are hosting your event in an out-of-town location, keep in mind supplies you will need to complete your projects.  Construction and maintenance type tasks can be easy to find, but they require very specific tools.  Do you have a way to bring these?  Are they available to borrow?  If you are not in your hometown, consider partnering with established organizations that can provide the equipment you need.  It is also important to prepare your attendees for these projects.  Do they need to bring work clothes?   Painting can be fun, until it gets on your favorite outfit!

Think time.  Retreat schedules are usually busy.  Considering there might be just a few hours allotted for service projects, look for tasks that can be accomplished fully in the given time frame.  Also, make sure there is adequate transportation and allow for travel time as you plan.

If the resources are available, take pictures and video while retreat attendees are participating in different projects.  Share these before large group sessions or in a closing video.

At the end of the day, leave time for those who participate to share about their experiences either in a large or small group setting.  Often some of the best memories of a retreat are the ones we least expect!

5 Photos You Want To Get At Your Next Event

These are the five photos that I’m always looking for when I market an event.  Let’s talk about them and how to take them.

  1. People learning/interacting. Most events are a combination of learning and networking, hopefully with a little fun thrown in. Capture it. Move closer or zoom in and focus on heads and shoulders rather than including only full bodies. We’re looking for facial expressions when we look at photographs.
  2. Feel of location. Cover all the different spaces where the event takes place. A great shot of the main meeting area, a breakout session, dining area, etc. One of my favorite types of shots is one from above, capturing movement. Set your camera to a longer shutter speed so that people blur slightly as they move. Use a tripod, or place your camera on a rail or ledge (not too precarious please), so that the buildings and walkways stay sharp and in focus.
  3. What makes it unique. Imagine the visual impression you would try to communicate to someone who has never attended the conference. Would you tell them about the view of the ocean from the event hall or the intimate round table discussion sessions with key speakers? Take photos until you feel you have a few shots that represent your description.
  4. Speaking of speakers. A great photo of a speaker engaging their audience is hard to get–but worth it. Try getting a shot that includes a few rows of the audience and the speaker. Or maybe a closeup of the presenter at the podium. A nice zoom lens is a big help in this category.
  5. Group shot. These can be a fun memento for event guests, and can help reinforce networking connections. I get great group shots by getting above my audience. Get up onto a ladder, or chair, or (for a huge group) into a balcony or sound box. Try a fisheye lens for a great effect.

If you’re an experienced photographer, use these ideas to fuel your creativity. If you’re not, take lots of different shots from multiple angles, and turn off the flash whenever you can. Always make a list of the shots you want to take away from an event, and be ready to capture spontaneous moments as they are happening. We’d love to see an amazing shot you’ve taken at an event, and tell us where you plan to use it in your marketing material!

Event Long Activities

Preparing an event-long activity can add fun and increased social interaction to your next event.  Of course, you’ll need to consider your main goal and the group of people you will be working with before you move forward. Here are a few event-long activities that might be just what your next event is missing.

1)    Seek and Find. Hide one, or multiple, themed items all over the venue– in breakout session rooms, at the hotel registration desk, even in event literature. Make sure the items are fun and unique but not too valuable. Let your attendees know near the beginning of the event that these items are hidden, explain how many there are, and how they should be recorded.  Items could be anything from passages of scripture, to figurines, to photos of rare stamps. The goal of this exercise could be group bonding, being exposed to relevant scripture, or occupying children during long periods of waiting in line.
2)    Scavenger Hunt: This is similar to the first option but involves a long list of different items. Items can be hidden around the event venue, or perhaps event attendees will need to venture into the city or surrounding area to find them.  If you are asking your guests to make a trip away from the event venue you may need to build some time into the schedule that they can use for this purpose.
3)    Question and Answer. Create a list of accomplishments, traits, and skills and encourage attendees to find other event guests who match that description.  Who speaks a foreign language, has run a marathon, can cook a five course dinner? Have  people collect names or signatures of people who fit each description. This is a good event-long task for groups of people who aren’t naturally outgoing, or who tend to stay in small groups.

Once you’ve chosen an activity think through details like deadlines, prizes and item placement.  Add a fun twist to socializing with any of the above options, and leave a comment with other ideas you’ve used.

Where To Find Your Next Expert Speaker

After weeks of brainstorming and refining, you have the perfect topic for an event.  Now you need to find an expert who can provide information, lead discussion and guide your attendees through the intricacies and nuances of said topic.  Where will you find them?

  • Speakers Groups.  These businesses have listings of speakers who are available for hire.  The advantage of using a service is two-fold, one: you can easily search by cost and availability and two: you have a professional group used to handling details that you may not be familiar with. For example, the company Premiere Speaker provides a packet of candidates for you to look through based on your objectives, and also helps you find a replacement if an emergency, like illness or bad weather causes your scheduled speaker to cancel.
  • Associations.  These groups of like-minded professionals are another place to search for experts on specialized topics.  Call the association and see if there is a member with speaking experience.
  • University/Colleges.  During local and national elections our local news channel often interviews the head of the political science department at the state university located in our city.  I always enjoy these interviews because the professor is an expert and brings in examples of past political strategies and personalities –always a much more informed opinion that Joe Smith off the street.  Professors are generally experienced and comfortable with public speaking, but ask if they have other speaking experience and see if you can chat with someone that has seen them in action.
  • Amazon.com.  This may seem strange but I often find experts on a topic by searching for soon-to-be-released books on amazon.  I type in the subject I am looking for in “books” and then under the “sort by” drop down menu I choose “publication date”.  I look for books that will be released one to six months before my event date.  These authors are happy to speak on a topic relevant to their newly released book, and have been interacting with all their research fairly recently.

Once you find a few experts on your topic, ask if you can see a video clip from a recent speaking gig.  Or, at the very least, get some references and call them for an honest review.  Just because a person is an expert on a topic does not mean they will be a fantastic speaker.  You need a blend of expertise and speaking experience.

I hope this list was helpful- where do you find your best expert speakers?