Ask the Expert: Planning a Marriage Event

Pumpkins. Changing leaves. Apples. The arrival of “sweater weather.” Football. These are all things that come to mind when I think of fall. In addition to hayrides, campfires, and harvest festivals, fall also provides the perfect setting for marriage events. With school in session and daily routines back in play, fall offers a great time to plan an event for couples.

I recently talked with Tammy Slayton, an Event Project Coordinator at LifeWay. Tammy coordinates events such as Marriage Getaways, Fall Celebration, Music City Gospel Singing, and Christmas in Branson. Tammy offered great advice on planning marriage events, and they aren’t just for the fall!

  • “What do you love most about marriage events?”
    Marriage isn’t easy; life gets in the way. I’ve met couples that come to a Marriage Getaway to reconnect and be reminded of how God brings them together to balance and serve one another through life. Then, there are those that have lost hope. I have seen couples come as their last chance and through the event learn how to ask, find, and give forgiveness as our speakers share testimonies and show witness to the power of God in marriages. As one whose marriage was restored after divorce, it blesses me to be able to bring these couples and speakers together to learn that nothing is impossible through God. We need to look to Him and not one another for completeness. Marriage is between two imperfect people who are loved by one perfect God.
  • “What elements do you feel are ‘must-haves’ for a marriage event?”
    • Transparency is a must.  Not one couple has it ALL together, and those that don’t need to see that.
    • Besides the teaching times, couples need time to themselves to have fun, laugh, and talk through lessons they have learned and are still processing. They need to start working on communication that could have been lost between them. (While most need time together, in some circumstances they may need a little time apart to focus on God and the lessons He may be teaching them individually.)
    • Truth! Everyone is so skeptical and mostly for good reason. The world is full of false teachers, liars, tempters, and thieves. A Christian event needs to speak Truth.
  • “What are some challenges you face when planning a marriage event?”
    Marriage events have a stigma that there’s something wrong with your marriage if you attend. Some spouses don’t want to face certain issues that are dividing the marriage, so a marriage event is the last place they want to go. There are many other events, and couples have to decide in which they are going to invest. In addition, there are things such as family, finances, and other responsibilities that may influence attendance at an event.
  • “What advice can you give to someone planning a marriage event for their church?”
    Balance the content. Poll members; ask what they are looking for in a marriage event (like dates, locations, content, activities, etc.). Provide food or refreshments. Pray about those that will speak at the event. Be ready for the fruit; prepare for new believers and those that would want to recommit to Jesus or follow a calling.

If you’re interested in learning more about LifeWay’s marriage events, take a look at their website. Dates for upcoming events will be posted soon.

Weekend Spiritual Retreat Curriculum Ideas

One of the foundational elements in planning a weekend spiritual retreat is the curriculum you will study during large and small group times.  For many, this can seem like an overwhelming task.  Do you write it yourself?  Are there materials out there?  Where do you find them?  You may have the luxury of a skilled curriculum writer who can produce material for your retreat.  You may bring in a speaker who provides his/her own material for both large and small group times.  If you don’t have either of these, there are a number of pre-written curriculum studies you can purchase for your retreat.

I recently spoke with Aaron Wilson, LifeWay Retail Church Representative, based out of Charlotte, NC.  He offered great resource suggestions for a variety of retreats.

For General Spiritual Retreats:

  • Explore the Bible:  Studies for groups who want to focus on one particular book of the Bible and study verses in their full context.
  • The Gospel Project:  Studies for groups who want to examine how the story of Jesus and His gospel is woven into all of Scripture.
  • Bible Studies for Life:  Studies for groups who are curious about how Biblical truth intersects with everyday life.

For Women:

For Men:

  • 33 Series: DVD-based series designed to equip men to pursue authentic manhood as modeled by Jesus in the 33 years He lived on earth.  There are six studies within this series.

For Couples:

  • Fireproof Your Marriage:  Study builds off themes presented in the movie, Fireproof (a great movie to show at the beginning or end of the retreat!).
  • The Art of Marriage:  DVD-based study geared toward making your marriage a masterpiece.
  • The Five Love Languages Study:  Study based off the best selling book by the same title. This revised edition provides a short, 2-session setting for weekend retreats in addition to a longer session study.

Choosing a study for your retreat doesn’t have to be a daunting task.  There are many options available that can easily be altered to fit your retreat schedule and needs.  Many of these studies have online samples you can preview before purchasing.

A big thanks to Aaron Wilson for sharing such a wide range of Bible study options LifeWay Stores offer both in-store and online (lifeway.com).

 

Nine Ways to Improve Guest Experience

Thom Rainer recently wrote an article entitled, “Nine Surprises in Worship Services that Made Guests Return.” Rainer, based on a recent Twitter survey, described events that impressed guests and made them desire to return. As I read this article, I noticed a few trends that could easily translate to your next event.

Here are the nine factors Rainer mentioned with an explanation of how they relate to event planning and improving attendee experiences:

  1. “Someone had an umbrella waiting for me in inclement weather.” In the event of less-than-desirable weather on registration day, have volunteers available to assist guests as they enter. Remember, first impressions are key!
  2. “A member actually invited me to lunch.” While this doesn’t translate completely to conferences, is it possible to have volunteers available to sit with attendees who may be alone at tables? This can carry-over to break times, as well.
  3. “The kids area had leaders who were friendly and helpful.” If your event will have childcare, make sure leaders leave parents with assurance their children will be well taken care of. Parents will enjoy their time much more if they are not worried about their kids.
  4. “There was a time of meaningful prayer.” Can you incorporate a prayer experience in your large group session? Prayer shouldn’t be an after-thought if your conference is worship-focused. If your event is more corporate-focused, are there ways you can integrate prayer for your organization?
  5. “Someone walked us where we were supposed to go.” Often conferences are in unfamiliar locations to the guests. While you might not be able to have staff available to escort guests individually, clearly marked volunteers (perhaps they have on the same t-shirt) are a great asset.
  6. “There was genuine friendliness outside of the stand and greet time.” Make sure your volunteers and staff are genuine and excited to serve. People can easily spot someone who has a less-than-stellar attitude. The overall demeanor of your team can set the entire tone for your conference attendees.
  7. “People followed up with my prayer requests the next day.” Follow-up with your conference attendees if they have a question, concern or general comment. If possible, address these immediately and face-to-face. This will show you value their opinions and genuinely care about their experiences.
  8. “I loved having the opportunity to speak with the pastor.” Is it possible to have event speakers available to the attendees? This might not be a possibility due to the size of your event or the notoriety of your speakers. However, if your event is a bit smaller and more intimate, consider having a meet and greet time with your speakers and/or worship leaders.
  9. “I received a gift at the end of the service.” Don’t let your guests leave empty-handed. At the end of the final session, have a small treat from a local bakery available or hand them a small snack bag and water bottle for their drive home.

Which of these points could you implement as you plan your next event? While you don’t have to incorporate all of them, choose a few you can do effectively. Adding these special touches can be just the thing a guest needs to sign up for your next event.

Ski Retreats 101, Part Two

*This blog post is a continuation of our previous post, Ski Retreats 101, Part One.

You’ve reserved the ski equipment. You’ve got transportation to and from the ski mountain covered. You’ve made lodging reservations, and you’re praying for the weather conditions to be favorable for your ski retreat. Now what?

Though most planning for winter ski retreats is based on the actual skiing details, there are still things you need to prepare for your trip. Ask yourself, “What is the purpose of this trip?” Is it just for fun? Do you want to have a worship element? Are you trying to build group dynamics? Is this more of an outreach event? As you think about these questions, here are things to consider as you prepare for the non-skiing aspects of your winter retreat:

  • Ski retreats can be a great outreach tool for your group. Keep in mind you may have people attending who are unfamiliar with your group’s purpose. This is a great opportunity to share Christ with them, as well as help them get more acquainted with those in your group.
  • Ski retreats are also a valuable tool in building relationships. These relationships can be between your attendees, your leadership or a combination of both. Scheduling down time in the evenings provides an outlet for relationship building to naturally fall into place.
  • If your purpose involves worship, there are a few ways to go about this. It is best to plan worship times in the evening, as most ski groups leave early in the day to maximize their ski sessions. Your guests will be tired when they return. Depending on the atmosphere and your group dynamics, you may plan a very upbeat worship session. You might consider a more laid back, acoustic session if this better fits the mood of your retreat. There could also be a time for simply having small group discussions divided by age groups.
  • For late evenings, provide time for fireside chats, games (such as cards or board games) and hot chocolate, coffee and snacks. Having a place to meet such as a lobby, conference room or common space is a great way for your group to relax together and foster an environment of relationship building.
  • If you are having giveaways at your retreat, think in terms of winter items such as long-sleeve t-shirts, hoodies, sweatpants or chapstick.
  • For the non-skiers in your group, consider asking your host location if there are areas to sled, snow shoe, tube or go ice-skating.

What advice can you give to someone planning a ski retreat? Comment in the section below.

Ski Retreats 101, Part One

Planning a winter ski retreat this year? Ski retreats can be the perfect getaway for families, couples, singles or youth. Other than the actual skiing logistics, these can be low-key events in terms of planning since most of your day is spent on the slopes. During down time, other than organized worship times, guests often just want to relax as they are tired from a day filled with skiing (and possibly sore from a day filled with falling!).

iStock_Skiing

Here are some ideas to consider as you prepare for the skiing part of your winter retreat:

  • Typically, ski retreats are scheduled around extended holiday weekends (possibly New Years, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President’s Day, etc.). Keep in mind these are very busy times on ski slopes, so prepare accordingly. Some groups prefer Spring Break ski retreats. There is always the possibility some ski slopes will have closed by this time due to warmer weather, so make sure to have an alternative plan if needed.
  • Most guests will not have personal ski equipment with them, so rentals will be necessary. Host locations often have relationships with ski slopes and ski rental equipment companies. Make sure you make proper reservations (if possible) for these things. It is also a good idea to pick up rental equipment a day prior as there are often long lines during peak ski times. This way you can have everything ready for your first day on the slopes.
  • When traveling to the ski area, make sure you have reliable vehicles and drivers who are comfortable in potentially snowy/icy conditions. Typically, ski resorts make it a priority to keep their roads clear, but there is always a chance of fresh snow while you are on the mountain. An extra vehicle, other than the van or bus your group might be traveling in, is a great thing to have in case of a medical emergency.
  • Consider asking your host location if they provide sack lunches as a meal option. If so, these can reduce costs at the ski slopes, as well as provide a convenient way to have lunch.
  • As with any group trip you take, authorized medical forms are necessary as defined by your organization’s protocol.
  • Packing lists are important if many of your guests are first time skiers. Include things such as ski bibs or waterproof pants, clothes to layer, a waterproof jacket, wool socks, a hat, sunglasses or ski goggles and chapstick.

While skiing is often the highlight of this type of event, there are also things you will need to prepare for when you are not on the slopes. Stay tuned for part two of this blog series as we discuss planning for the non-skiing aspects of winter retreats!

Add Value To Your Faith Based Event with Community

What if the local community that will surround your next event was holding people, churches and organizations that would be incredibly valuable to those attending your event?  I think it is!  Here’s how:

  • Local People can bring practical experience and or expertise to your event.  Their stories are as varied as their fingerprints.  Identify your list of qualifications and start asking around at local universities, organizations and churches.  “Who is active in this area of work/ministry/teaching?”  You’ll find a few names and can begin doing some research on them.
  • Local Organizations.  For and not for profit organizations exist for particular goals.  Do any of those goals line up with your next event?  Think outside the box.  Perhaps a particular organization makes and sells construction equipment, so you get ready to cross them off your list.  But looking at their website you see they have a vibrant community involvement and build a Habitat House every year, with 100% involvement from their employees.  Or, maybe they have an expertise in training that they could bring to your attendees.  Dig a little!
  • Local Church leaders and members can talk about particular issues and how their church is handling them.  What has worked and what hasn’t in local community outreach, member discipleship and children’s ministry?  These churches have stories of faith, struggle, loss and success.  Take a look at their web page and schedule a phone conversation with a pastor or leader if you think the church might fit into your next event.

Why look locally?  You could find these resources and “fly them in” right? Well, yes.  And sometimes you need to.   But we suggest you consider this local option, especially if more than half of your event guests live close to the event location.  If so, you can help them create connections that will benefit them long term.  Another plus?  Local experts, trainers and organizations don’t need lodging, or a travel expense account. It’s also incredibly helpful to see organizations, churches and people from one local area talk about the same issue from different sides.  The context it creates is very multi-faceted and real. Enjoy the treasure hunt of looking locally first.  And share you stories of success with us!

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.

Providing Childcare at Your Events

One of the biggest challenges for some events is securing childcare.  While every event doesn’t lend itself to bringing children, there are times when providing programming for children is both necessary and allows for greater attendance.

Ask any church staff member, and they will probably say positions in the children’s’ department are some of the hardest to fill.  This same mentality often carries over into event childcare.

How can you implement childcare during your adult sessions at your conference?  What can you do to recruit workers for your next event?  Here are a few ideas and tips to aid in planning your next event.

  1. Determine the ages for which you can provide childcare.  This will depend, in part, on your event space accommodations.  If caring for infants, will you have cribs available?  Can you bring in pack-n-plays?  Is there water access?  Can you refrigerate snacks? For older children, are there outdoor activities available?  Is there a playground?  If you are caring for a wide variety of ages, do you have space available to separate them?
  2. Determine the charge for childcare.  Let’s face it – childcare is typically expensive.  While you don’t have to charge the going rate for babysitters (that would make it most likely impossible for anyone to attend!), you have to cover the cost of your supplies and possibly pay for workers.  It is perfectly okay to make this fee nonrefundable, as well, due in part to pre-planning necessity.
  3. Think outside of the box if you are having trouble securing childcare workers.  Do any of your event staff have older, responsible teenagers/college age children who could serve?  Check with your host location.  They might have a list of childcare workers or possibly interns who could work.  Contact local churches or religious groups within colleges/universities for potential childcare workers.  I once worked at an event when an entire church youth group came and served as childcare workers for a conference for the entire week.  The church used this as a mission opportunity to provide back yard Bible clubs during the childcare times.
  4. Think safety.  Anytime children are involved, you need to make every effort to ensure their safety.  You will need to have background checks on your workers.  You should also contact them prior to the event to verify they are indeed the type of person you want working with the children of your guests.  Reference checks are also beneficial.  In addition, you will want to have first aid available and obtain information from parents regarding any allergies, special needs and medical conditions.  Security measures for dropping off and picking up children, as well as emergency contact information are vital.

However you choose to implement childcare at your events, hopefully these tips will be useful as you plan.  Remember, providing childcare can allow for much more intimate times with your adults if they know their children are having a great experience.

Creating A Fantastic Fall Welcome Basket

It’s so fun and encouraging to enter a room and see something there especially for you. A welcome basket could be a wonderful gift for your speakers, special guests, or every guest at a small retreat. With a new season coming up Tuesday, September 24th, here are some ideas for what to include in a fall themed welcome basket.

Bottle of cider
Apples
Caramel popcorn
Apple butter
Chocolate
Soft blanket
Water bottles
Lotion
Candy (caramels)
Local jams or jellies
Coffee mug
Coffee beans
Tea bags
Small journal
Pens
Tiny wreaths
Pumpkins or gourds
Fall seeds
Scarf
Guidebook of area hikes/attractions

I hope you can picture a beautiful basket holding some of these items sitting on a desk, conference table, or bedside table. Be sure to include a note of welcome and appreciation. “John, Thank you so much for agreeing to speak at this year’s Pastor’s Conference. Your humility and wisdom will be a gift for all the pastors who are attending. Know that our leadership team is thankful for you, and praying for you this weekend. Please, let us know if you need anything. Sincerely, Jim.”

Don’t feel pressured to choose ten items off the list above, especially if your budget is tight. Even two or three items grouped together and set in a small container with a handwritten note will be a special treat.

When I’m preparing baskets, I purchase everything non-perishable weeks or months ahead of time. Then I put the baskets together, and stick a note in each one listing what I need to buy and when I need to pick it up. For example “1 small pumpkin, buy Sept. 3-4.” I also make a note about the item in my calendar. That way- I’ll see the note, pick the items up, and then know which basket to place them in!

Happy planning!

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!