Merry Christmas

The Ministry Serving Ministry team would like to thank each of our readers for another year of learning, planning and dreaming with us on our blog. We pray God’s richest blessings on you as you celebrate the Christmas season. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of parties, parades and planning, take time to remember the true meaning of this wonderful holiday—the beautiful birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Here are some of our favorite Christmas quotes and Scriptures you can meditate on as you pause and reflect on the wonder of Christmas.

  • “He was created of a mother whom He created. He was carried by hands that He formed.” – St. Augustine
  •  “The Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the Incarnation.” – J.I. Packer
  •  “Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.” – Luke 2:11
  •  “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” – C.S. Lewis
  •  “Our God is the God of the unexpected. Few things could be more unexpected than the King of heaven being born in a stable.” – Bill Crowder
  •  “For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6
  •  “The hinge of history is on the door of a Bethlehem stable.” – Ralph W. Sockman
  • “Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in Thee.” – Charles Wesley
  • “When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” – Galatians 4:4-5
  • “Once in our world, a stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.” – C.S. Lewis

Merry Christmas from our team to yours! May God’s hope and peace bring you exceedingly great joy as you celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. See you back here in 2017!

 

Be Thankful

Thanksgiving—a time for family, food, football and faith. A time to reflect on the blessings God has given us. A time to simply say “thank you.”

As we enter the holiday season, I hope each of you can take a few moments to ponder the ways God has been faithful to you this year. As you gather with family and friends, remember to simply give thanks for the many blessings you have received.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I had the chance to ask Ridgecrest Conference Center leaders what they are most thankful for this year. Here are a few of their responses:

  • “I’m grateful for God’s grace, the opportunity to serve at Ridgecrest with some amazing people and for God giving me a wife who helps me grow in my faith, forgives me and believes in me.” – Art, Director
  •  “I am thankful for the improvements at Ridgecrest, a great year of serving groups and a leadership team that supports and challenges one another.” – Melissa, Sales
  •  “I am thankful for a family and extended family that loves God and holds Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in their lives. I am thankful for a strong team and godly place to work.” – David, Conference Services
  •  “I am grateful for a wonderful staff to serve alongside and to be able to be a part of a leadership team that holds each other accountable to live out our mission.” – Rose, Event Coordination
  •  “I am thankful to work with a team of people who desire to lead Ridgecrest well and a family who encourages and loves me daily.”  – Robert, Business Office
  •  “I am thankful that God has shown favor to Ridgecrest by providing us with business growth that has allowed us to make substantial investments in our team members and facilities. I am also thankful for my boys that constantly remind me of what unconditional love looks like.” – Daniel, Facilities
  •  “I am thankful for the amazing team that the Lord has given us in Food Service and all of Ridgecrest, as well for the ongoing growth in our team as we seek to impact lives for God’s glory!” – Marcus, Food Service
  • I am truly thankful for the folks that God has brought to Ridgecrest—the team that I am on and the team that I lead.” – AJ, Housekeeping

What about you? What are you most thankful for this holiday season? As you prepare for this time of thanksgiving, take a moment to reflect on God’s goodness and faithfulness to you.

 

What’s in Your Bag of Tricks?

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about icebreaker questions to help spur on conversation among attendees in a group. Last week, as I began our small group discussion at church with an introduction time (we had a lot of new faces), I was put on the spot for a fun question to have each person answer as they introduced themselves. My mind drew a complete blank, and we ended up answering an awkward question about our Christmas holidays, weeks after the decorations have been put away. I remembered the post I wrote, but not a single question came to mind!

How can you be prepared for situations like these? I’ve met group facilitators/event planners who often have what they call a “bag of tricks” (figuratively speaking) – things they know they can pull out anytime that will help get people talking, fill in a spot that may be lagging or just break the monotony of a lecture or presentation. The main component of these ideas is simplicity – no set-up or special supplies are needed so you can use these at anytime, anywhere.

What do you have in your “bag of tricks”? Here are a few ideas:

  • Icebreaker Questions: These are designed to facilitate discussion and help people begin to feel comfortable speaking around each other. Some examples include:
    • If you could eliminate one thing from your daily schedule, what would it be?
    • Would you rather be three feet tall or ten feet tall?
    • How many pairs of shoes are in your closet?
    • What is in the trunk of your car right now?
    • What is the most unusual thing you have ever eaten?
  • Stand Up and Stretch: Sometimes all your group needs to stay focused is a small break to stand up and stretch. Leading your attendees in a few easy exercises (or even breaking out in a small song and dance) can get the blood flowing and even bring a few laughs!
  • Jokes or Funny Stories: Commit to memory a few funny (and appropriate) jokes or stories. Use these sparingly and only if you can tell them correctly!
  • Teambuilding Games: Have one or two teambuilding activities you can do with various size groups with no set-up involved. “Knots” and “Never Have I Ever” are two good options, though a quick Google search can give you many more ideas.

Hopefully, by having a few things in your “bag of tricks” you can avoid awkward moments of silence and be a more dynamic group facilitator/speaker as you interact with your attendees. If you have trouble thinking of things on the spot, keep a list of these on your smartphone or other device you might have with you for a quick reference before your session begins.

What’s in your “bag of tricks”?

Christmas Centerpieces: A Community Effort

If your schedule during the holiday season is anything like mine, I guarantee you are constantly on the run from Christmas party to Christmas program to Christmas service to Christmas cookie exchange. While most events held around the holiday season are typically scheduled for an afternoon or evening rather than an extended overnight retreat, there is still much planning to be done to make your holiday gathering a success.

Two red Christmas baubles and colorful lights

In the midst of planning during this busy season, I have found it often helpful to involve others as much as possible. As with any event, big or small, you don’t have to do it all by yourself. People often are more than willing to help if their tasks are bent toward their strengths or something they enjoy.

One of the simplest ways to involve others in holiday gatherings is for assistance with table decorations. This allows them to take some ownership in the event, as well as helps cut costs in your event budget. Here are a few ideas to include others in creating centerpieces for events where your guests will be seated at multiple tables.

  • • Nativity Scenes: Many people have very unique nativity sets in their collection of Christmas decorations. Ask a few of them to bring their nativities to use as centerpieces for each table. These can be great conversation starters, especially if the nativity’s owner is seated at that table. You can complement these with sprigs of festive greenery or small candles. (Don’t underestimate the fun that even a Fisher Price Little People nativity set can add to the decor.)
  • Christmas Dishes: Consider having different guests play “host” to a table by bringing their own Christmas dishes to use. Set tables with their dishes (plates, bowls, glasses, etc.) and any extra pieces they may have. Again, these can be great conversation starters when guests are seated.
  • Ornaments: Ornaments can be used in a variety of ways as table decorations. For example, you might ask each guest to bring their favorite ornament and display it in a festive basket or Christmas greenery placed in the center of the table. One activity could be to tell your table the story of what makes the ornament so special. Another option might be to have each guest bring an ornament to give away in an ornament exchange – these can be displayed similarly in a basket or on greenery in the center of the table.

As you plan your Christmas events this year, think about things you already have that could be used for a one-time event. Ask around to see what others may have as they take out their holiday decorations. Most people don’t mind parting with some decorations for one or two days. Sometimes personal decorations can add a really special touch to your event.

A New Take on Gift Exchanges

White elephant Christmas parties. Dirty Santa gift exchanges. Secret Santa gifts. I’m sure at some point you’ve been invited to take part in something like this and might have even fretted over what type of gift to bring. Is it in the price range? Is it too tacky? Not tacky enough? Does it fit the person you are buying for? Will everyone like it?

Assorted colored shopping bags including yellow, orange, red, pink, blue and green on a white background

Recently I came across a new idea on gift exchanges called a “My Favorite Things” party. While this idea can work for Christmas parties, it can also be a fun fellowship idea for a smaller women’s retreat. In addition, this is a great “get-to-know-you” activity.

Here’s how to host a “My Favorite Things” fellowship gift exchange:

  • Each participant brings five gifts – each item the same. The gift should represent one of the participant’s favorite things. Set a per gift price limit (very low) prior to the event. These gifts can include anything from a favorite type of candy or cooking item to a favorite type of household essential or a handmade item. (For example, if one of my favorites things is a certain type of pen, I would bring five of them to exchange.)
  • Place these gifts in a gift bag and have all participants sit them on a gift table.
  • Each participant writes her name on five slips of paper and places them in a basket.
  • In order to exchange the gifts, each participant will come up and tell about her gift – why it’s a favorite thing, what it means to her, etc.
  • The participant will then draw five names from the basket, and each of these people will receive their gift.
  • So, you bring five of your favorite things and leave with five gifts representing the favorite things of others!

In order to make this event a success, you must send out detailed instructions for your guests prior to the event. As with many women’s retreats, a lot of attention is given to the “cute” details, so include a fun invitation to this in your registration material. Decorate your fellowship room in a similar fashion. (As a side note, this can serve as a retreat activity or as a stand-alone event.)

As gifts are exchanged, women will undoubtedly learn new things about others in their group. And the greatest thing about this type of gift exchange is that you don’t have to worry about what someone else might want – you bring gifts you like instead!

Simple Thank You Gifts

Volunteers are often a vital part of your conference or event team. From registration to greeting guests, from providing directions to selling merchandise, volunteers can fill important voids for various tasks.

While there are larger incentives you can provide for volunteers (discounted program and housing fees, free t-shirts and other merchandise, etc.), there are ways you can encourage your team throughout the event, as well.

The last time I volunteered at a conference, each day I was given a little “something” thanking me for my service. These were very small, low cost items (typically a food item of some sort) with a clever note attached, left for me at the location I was working.

While these “thank you” gifts might take some time to assemble, many of them can be done well ahead of the conference. The time and effort put forth to create these little extras can help encourage your volunteers as they work throughout the conference. As you prepare these, you can purchase individually wrapped candy/snacks or put unwrapped items in a plastic bag sealed with the note.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Thanks for being an EXTRAordinary volunteer! (Extra gum)
  • You are a LIFESAVER! Thank you! (Lifesaver candy)
  • We MINT to tell you how much we appreciate you! (Any type of mints)
  • It’s been such a TREAT to have you as a volunteer! (Works with any type of snack)
  • Without your help we would have fallen to PIECES! Thank you! (Reese’s Pieces candy)
  • We would be in KNOTS without you! (Bag of pretzels)
  • It’s “o-FISH-al”! You are a great volunteer! (Bag of Goldfish crackers or Swedish Fish candy)
  • Volunteers like you are worth 100 GRAND! (100 Grand candy bars)
  • Just POPPING in to say thanks for all your hard work! (Bag of popcorn)
  • It’s been MOUNDS of fun serving with you! (Mounds candy bars)

Simple yet thoughtful gifts can go a long way in showing your appreciation. Let your creativity shine as you prepare these small thank you items for your event volunteers.

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!

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.

Complaints, Confrontations, and Verbal Attacks, O My!

Maybe, as a planning professional, you don’t see as many frustrated guests as those with “boots on the ground” during an event.  But, even if you don’t deal directly with discontented guests, you need to train your support staff on responding with grace, calm, strength and professionalism.

  • Grace. As Christians, we come at this challenge with, I believe, an extra tool. We have seen God extend His grace to us, time after time when we are frustrated, angry, whiney, or disappointed. Extend that same grace to your frustrated guests. Instead of a “this again” attitude, pray that God will give you wisdom to see past their attitude and problem, to a person that is important to God.
  • Calm. Take a deep breath and know that a calm attitude on your part is the appropriate response. This may go without saying, but escalating through gestures, tone, or voice level will NOT help the situation. “A soft answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Prov. 15:1)
  • Strength. Just because you are extending grace, and responding in a calm way, does not mean you must give in to every demand. There are some guidelines that can’t be broken, no matter how much they upset someone. Along the same vein, no matter how much my children beg, they cannot play in the street. It isn’t. going. to. happen. If you can’t give the guest what they are hoping for, go deeper. What is the underlying issue? Can you address that in a different way?
  • Professionalism. Responding to difficult, frustrated guests is part of your job, see it as such. Imagine getting a performance review after each encounter. What did you do correctly? Incorrectly? How could you improve? This is a part of your job, not an argument to “win” or “lose”.

What are some strategies you have found helpful in dealing with irritated, angry guests? How do you train your team of event professionals to handle these situations?

3 Recent Resources For Event Planners

Today’s post is a little bit different than my regular blogs.  Today I wanted to mention three recent articles that I’ve read that are tied to event planning.

The first is over at SuccessfulMeetings.com, and is titled “Allergists Publish Food Allergy Tips for Meeting Planners”.  Food allergies have increasingly become important, and in some cases it can mean the difference between life and death.  This article does a great job of giving advice to event planners on planning and working around food allergies.

The second post is called “80% of event organizers plan to increase social media” and can be found on citmagazine.com (Conference & Incentive Travel).  If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know how much I value social media as a tool to help market your event.  This study done by The Amiandio Report is pretty interesting.  Many event planners showed that when they used social media to promote their events, they were pleased with their results.  I believe as you make your plans for social media you have to be intentional about what you’re going to do.  Set goals and be able to measure them.

The third post is a self-improvement article.  We’ve talked about being always focused on Constant And Never-ending Improvement, and this post from BusinessInsider.com entitled “Eliminate These 8 Things From Your Daily Routine”  is right down that alley.  Most of the 8 things is common sense and filed under being polite.  But sometimes we forget the little things.

Have you read something recently that would be worth sharing with other event planners?  Mention the post and link to it in the comments below.