Creative Ways to Divide into Groups

In our small group at church last Sunday, the leader wanted us to break up into small groups.  In an effort to mix us up, he had us number off.  There we were, ranging in age from 30 to 70, simply counting off by 1, 2, 3.  Needless to say, it proved quite difficult for some of the group.  I’ve experienced this countless times with children and youth, but this was a new one for me with middle aged adults struggling to count off by threes!

Meeting Of Support GroupThere was a very intentional purpose in not having us choose our own groups.  We flock to people we know.  We separate into groups where we are most comfortable.  That was not the goal of this exercise.  The goal was to meet new people, get out of our “familiar” and hear the ideas and opinions of others.

Breaking up into smaller groups is often an important element in retreat settings.  If you’re looking for ways to separate your group into smaller units, here are some ideas you can implement.  (Note:  these are intended for groups of approximately 25-50 people.)

  • Candy in a Bag – Put different types of wrapped candy in a bag (if you want to have four groups, use four types of candy).  Have each person choose a piece of candy.  Separate into groups based on the types they choose.
  • Birthdays – Ask participants to find group members who share the same birthday month as they do.
  • Animal Sounds – Before you begin, write the names of different animals on slips of paper (based on the number of groups you want to have).  These can include cows, pigs, dogs, horses, etc.  Have everyone draw a slip of paper out of a basket.  In order to find their group, each person must make the sound of the animal on their paper.  (As an alternative, you could also use vehicle sounds, motions pertaining to different sports, etc.)
  • Seat Colors – Prior to the group arriving, tape a strip of colored paper under each chair in the room.  When the participants take a seat, have them look under their chairs for the slips of paper.  Break them into groups based on the different colors.
  • Arm/Finger Cross – If you need two separate groups, here are two possible ideas:  Have everyone cross their arms across their chests.  Divide into groups based on which arm is crossed over the top.  One group will include those who crossed the right arm over the left, and the other group will have those who crossed the left arm over the right.  In addition, you can also use this same principle with thumbs.  Have guests close their eyes and interlock their hands.  Groups are formed by which thumb is on the top – right thumbs on top form one team, while left thumbs on top form the other.

Do you have other creative ways to separate into small groups?  Share in the comments section below!

Focus on Missions, Part Two

In our last blog post, we discussed ways to incorporate fundraising for mission emphases, ministry causes or charities.  Many organizations have non-profit groups they support regularly.  Others may not have something they regularly donate to but may want to do a special charity emphasis during an event.missionsHere are a few ideas if your group is looking for a missions cause to support:

•    Compassion International – The main goal of Compassion International is to provide for children living in poverty through child sponsorships.
•    World Vision International – World Vision offers child sponsorships, as well as opportunities to provide for specific humanitarian needs such as medical care, education and animals for impoverished communities.
•    Samaritan’s Purse – Samaritan’s Purse provides medical help, disaster response, orphan care and aid to wounded warriors, to name a few.  Operation Christmas Child is also a large part of this ministry.
•    International Mission Board – An entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, the International Mission Board exists to spread the name of Jesus Christ throughout the world.  Support of the IMB includes funding missionaries, providing through the World Hunger Fund and donating for specific strategic projects listed on their website.
•    North American Mission Board – Also an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, the North American Mission Board exists to share God’s love throughout North America through planting churches, disaster relief and more.
•    Nothing But Nets and Nets for Life are organizations created to help fight malaria in African countries by providing mosquito nets for children and families.
•    The Water Project and Blood Water are non-profits with one major goal – to provide clean drinking water to people in impoverished countries.
•    Local Charities – There are most likely organizations in your own community you might want to support in a financial way.  These could include crisis pregnancy centers, homeless ministries, food banks and free medical clinics.
•    Some aspect of your organization – If you are a current non-profit, there may be certain causes within your organization you can highlight and raise money for during your event.

While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, this will hopefully get your brainstorming process in motion.  With any non-profit organization, it is important to do your own research on their mission statement, processes for providing support and financial information.  GuideStar is an online service providing financial information on non-profit organizations.  (Note:  When researching through GuideStar you may need to look up the parent organization rather than the specific cause.  For example, Nothing But Nets is a division of the United Nations Foundation.)

What about your group/organization?  Are there any specific ministries you support financially?  If so, tell us about it in the comments section!

Focus on Missions, Part One

Does your church or organization have a specific mission emphasis, ministry cause or charity associated with it?  If so, camps and conferences can be a great way to highlight and raise extra money for these.

There are many ways to showcase a charitable emphasis throughout your event.  Here are a few ways to implement these in the event program:

  • Before the event:  Prepare guests if you will be taking up donations through pre-event communication.  Some people are prepared to give at any time; others need more time to think through their donations and bring cash or checks with them.
  • From the platform:  During large group sessions, have someone speak from the stage about the specific emphasis.  Utilize videos to give guests a better visual understanding of the cause.  Have someone from the specific organization (either a leader or someone who has personally benefited from it) give a brief testimony.
  • Set up a display:  Find a central area (or areas) where most of your guests will pass by, and set up a booth with information about the ministry emphasis.  Make it creative, eye-catching and inviting.  Have a volunteer available to provide extra information and answer questions.  (Some of the most creative displays I have seen highlight the actual need you may be supporting.  For example, if you are raising money to build beds for impoverished children in another country, create a replica of where these children currently sleep, as well as examples of the new beds that will be built.)
  • Information in guests’ hands:  It is important for your guests to have information at their disposal as a reminder to give during the conference and hopefully continue to support the mission after the event.  Information can be in welcome bags, placed on seats before a large group session and/or handed out as guests enter or leave a session.
  • Collecting donations:  There are a variety of ways to collect donations throughout a conference.  Donation boxes placed at the entrance of the event space is one example.  Offering baskets can be passed around during a large group session.  Guests can walk to the front of the event space during a session and physically place their donations in some sort of basket or altar.  Regardless of how you decide to collect donations, make sure to celebrate the total received at the closing session – this is a great way for guests to leave energized and excited about this aspect of the event.  Even if you don’t reach the goal you might have set, celebrate what was given!

Depending on the size and purpose of your organization, you may be able to take credit card donations and also provide tax-exempt donation receipts.  Make sure your guests are aware of these things.

Do you want to implement raising money for a specific cause at your next event but don’t have a certain organization you support?  Stay tuned for our next blog post where we will highlight a few resources for causes you can support!

A Refresher Course as We Head Back to School

As I’ve been out and about over the past few weeks, it’s apparent one thing is on the minds of most kids and parents – it’s time to head back to school!  With excitement and preparation for the upcoming year in full swing, I’m reminded of lessons we, as event planners, can learn as school starts again.

Child portrait
Here is a quick refresher course on event planning as learned from those heading back to school:

  1. First impressions are important!  Teachers spend a great deal of time and energy in preparing their classrooms.  They are visually appealing and creative.  Your first impressions should be no different during events.  The registration area is often your first personal interaction with guests, so make sure it is appealing, and make sure your staff are well prepared, as well.  Just as teachers want to make good impressions on their students and parents, your staff should do the same.
  2. Creating an inviting environment is essential!  Going to school can be a great time of anxiety for children.  For some people, going to new events and conferences can bring similar reactions.  Encourage your staff to be welcoming, to act quickly when an issue arises and to go out of their way to make those who might feel apprehensive welcome.
  3. Knowing what to bring is helpful!  Paper, #2 pencils, crayons and more top the typical school year supply lists.  Though you don’t have to be as thorough with your conference guests, it’s always thoughtful to let them know of any extra items they may need or any weather specific items they should bring.  If you are going to have a formal dinner, make sure they are aware.  If you plan on having an afternoon hike, be sure to let them know so they can be prepared.  If the event is “BYOB” (bring your own bedding), remind your guests to bring linens for their stay.
  4. Don’t forget to share the important details!  As kids head back to school, parents receive a lot of information – drop off and pick-up times, parking locations, lunch prices, absence policies, dress code and more.  As an event planner, think in terms of guests who have never been to your event or event facility before.  Information concerning parking locations, schedules, nearby attractions, registration procedures and more help guests feel more prepared, as well as reduce the questions your event team may have to repeatedly answer.
  5. Start your event off with a bang!  Teachers usually don’t start their first day of school asking students to open their books and begin working.  There are fun activities, group elements, get-to-know you times and more.  Remember this as you plan your event – make sure to “hook” your guests from the beginning with excitement!

Fall is a popular time for event planners as there are many conferences and events taking place.  I hope these refreshers get you geared up as you plan!

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!

Prayer Ideas Before Your Event

There are many ways you can get others involved in your event preparation.  While some people can take a very active role in getting things ready, there are others who can take a more passive role, one that doesn’t require them to even leave the comfort of their own home.  As you enlist volunteers, remember to ask people to do one very simple thing – pray for all aspects of your event.
pray word in letterpress typeAs you begin preparing for your retreat, develop a prayer plan, as well.  Be specific as you ask others to join you in prayer.  Determine the general and specific prayer requests you have.  Don’t include anything too personal – save these for your smaller, more intimate team.  Some things to pray over could include small group leaders, break out sessions, worship/large group times, travel, guests attending, host location, speakers, administration, weather, etc.  In addition to deciding what to ask people to pray for, also decide how you would like to ask others to pray.  Would you like them to pray specifically about something each day for 100 days?  40 days?  A week prior?  ‘Round the clock prayer time slots during the event?

Here are a few ways you can get the prayer requests to those who want to join you:

  • 100 Days of Prayer Calendar – If your event is a large-scale conference designed with making a large impact on your church or organization, consider a longer season of prayer prior to the event.  Have calendars available with a daily prayer request on them.
  • Prayer Bookmarks/Postcards – These are great to hand out the week before an event begins, with a few simple things to pray for regarding the conference.   These can easily be seen posted on a refrigerator, desk or even in a Bible.
  • Prayer Emails – While many people don’t want to be bombarded with yet another daily email, consider sending a very short prayer request email each day.  The key is to keep it brief and to the point.  (I recently received an email from a friend’s church entitled “Read, Pray, Delete”.  It included a very short prayer request and simply asked you to read it, pray for it and then delete it.)
  • Social Media – Facebook and Twitter are great resources to send out a daily post about a particular prayer request for your event.

These are just a few ways to get people involved before and during your retreat in a very important way.  What have you done as an event planner to enlist people to pray for your upcoming conferences and retreats?  Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

Choosing An Event Theme

Choosing a theme is a vital part of the event planning process.  Conference themes can (and should) impact your marketing designs, event promotion, stage set, speaker and topic selections, music set lists, printed material and media during the event.  In other words, the theme is what ties all the pieces of the conference together.

How do you choose a theme for an event?  Here are a few tips as you plan:

  • Pray.  This is a simple yet often overlooked step in the process.  Before you begin brainstorming, ask God for direction for your event.  Encourage your team to pray specifically for the event goals, direction and theme.  (And, don’t limit prayer to before you begin planning – pray before, during and after the planning process.)
  • Determine your direction.  What is the purpose of the event?  What topics do you want to discuss in the conference?  Who is your audience?  What goal(s) do you hope to achieve?  Once your direction is set, you are ready to come up with a theme idea.
  • Brainstorm.  At this stage, come up with as many different ideas as you can for your theme reflecting the direction chosen for the event.  Utilize your team in the brainstorming process.  Narrow the themes down to the top two or three.  Ask a few trusted people outside of your team for their input, as well.  Based on the feedback you receive from both inside and outside audiences, choose your theme.
  • Embrace your theme.  Once your theme is settled, focus on incorporating it in all aspects of planning.

If you’re having trouble in the brainstorming stage, here are a few ideas on where to look for themes:

  • Bible verses.  Choosing a key verse can lead to an overall theme for your conference.  From these verses you can utilize a word or phrase to direct your event.  For example, Matthew 5:16 could lead to a theme of “Shine”.
  • Christian music titles.  A look at this week’s billboard top 10 could lead to themes of “Thrive”, “Do Something” or “I Am”.  Worship songs can also provide great ideas for themes.
  • General themes.  You can choose a more general theme that can describe your retreat as a whole.  Ideas could include “Ignite”, “Marriage Impact”, “The Journey” or “The Summit”.

As an event planner, what resources do you use when planning an event theme?  Leave your comments in the section below.

Summer Series: Campfire Nights

Looking for the perfect ending to your summer retreat or conference?  A campfire experience is a great way to come together on the final night and reflect, relax and fellowship.

fireWhen some people think of campfires, they tend to go back to old experiences of singing “Kumbayah” while sitting around the fire.  While you can still incorporate some of the old-fashioned campfire traditions, there are also other ideas you can use, as well.

Here are some tips to plan an evening campfire experience:

  • Purpose:  Before you begin planning your campfire, determine the purpose for your evening.  What are you trying to accomplish?  Do you want a time of serious, personal reflection?  Do you want a relaxed experience to wind down from the retreat?  Do you want a time of worship?  Do you want to spend time reflecting on the actual retreat experience?  Do you want a combination of some of the above?  The purpose for your campfire will determine how you plan your evening.
  • Music:  Music can be a vital part of your campfire time.  Acoustic guitars and small drums (like djembes) can provide a great set, though many songs can be sung a cappella.  Fun, campfire songs can set the stage for an upbeat time.  These can include kid favorites such as “Down by the Bay”, “I Love the Mountains”, “Apples and Bananas” and “Little Cabin in the Woods”.  To transition to a more serious worship time, you can sing songs you might have been singing throughout worship sets during your retreat or use songs your guests will most likely know the words to, such as “Amazing Grace”, “Blessed be the Name”, and “Seek Ye First”.
  • Sharing:  Designate someone to lead a time of sharing if that is appropriate for your campfire.  Or, select a few people to speak briefly about some aspect of your retreat.  If your goal is to just have a fun experience, consider bringing in a storyteller to close out your campfire.
  • Snacks:  No campfire is complete without roasting marshmallows!  Provide ingredients for s’mores, or if you want something different consider roasting hot dogs or making banana boats.

Regardless of the purpose of your campfire, here are a few additional programming notes to keep in mind:

  • Have bug spray on hand for your guests to use.
  • Provide some type of seating for guests, whether that be chairs, blankets, logs or even hay bales.
  • Make sure the path to the campfire is well lit and well marked.  Flashlights or lanterns near the campfire area can also come in handy.

Campfires can be a great experience to culminate your retreat.  They can also be a great evening activity for a single night of your event.  However you choose to incorporate a campfire, have fun, relax and don’t forget the s’mores!


Summer Series: H2Olympics

While you may have your adult guests occupied with seminars, classes and other sessions, what are you planning with their kids who may accompany them?  Summer conferences are a fun way for families to travel together, but there are times when there may need to be separate activities for the kids.hoseIf you’re looking for a summer afternoon idea for the kids at your conference, water activities are always a hit!  While this will require planning on your part, it’s sure to be an afternoon the kids will remember.  Before you plan this type of activity, make sure your host location has water resources available.  Questions to ask include, “Is there a water source near the assigned playing area?” and “Are there long hoses available to use?”

If you do have access to water, consider planning an H2Olympics, a series of water events where teams of kids compete against each other.  (And, if the whole family wants to get involved and not just the kids, consider pairing families together based on size to compete against each other!)

Here are some events you can incorporate:

  • Fill the Can:  Have a large kiddie pool filled with water.  Each team must transport water from the pool to fill their own buckets using only themselves.
  • Curling:  On a large slip ‘n slide, one member of each team gets pushed on their knees and then slides.  The team member that goes the greatest distance wins.  (Tip:  Cover the slip ‘n slide with baby oil or dish detergent for an extra slippery ride.)
  • Water Balloon Fight:  Each kid gets ten water balloons.  The driest team at the end of the balloon fight wins.
  • Water Balloon Shot Put:  One kid from each team participates to see how far he can throw a water balloon.  The team throwing the farthest distance wins.
  • Balloon Piece Pick-up:  Give each team a trash bag.  The team collecting the most water balloon trash wins.  (As a side note, this is a great way for everyone to help clean up from the water balloon fight without them knowing they are actually “cleaning”.)
  • Soap Shrink:  Give each team two bars of soap.  The first to shrink all bars in their water buckets wins.  (Tip:  Use travel-sized soaps for this activity.)

There are plenty of other water games you can include in your H2Olympics – be creative and utilize supplies and resources you know you will have on hand.  After the games are over the kids can have a free time playing on the slip ‘n slides or running through sprinklers.

If you do plan on having a water day for your guests, make sure to let them know about this before they arrive.  They will want to pack bathing suits, towels and sunscreen for the big event!

Summer Series: Summer Catering Ideas

With the summer season upon us, it’s time to look at a few specific ideas for your upcoming, fun-in-the sun retreats.  Summer is a great time for camps and conferences designed with all ages in mind.

watermelon girl
Looking for a few summer-themed catering ideas for your next event?  Here are a few tried-and-true suggestions you can incorporate.

  1. S’mores:  Nothing says summertime like an evening sitting around a campfire.  However, having a campfire isn’t always ideal in your host location.  A new trend is creating a s’mores bar, something that can be used indoors or outdoors.  To create your bar, use a shallow wooden box or terracotta pots filled with rocks.  Place your flame source (burners or canned heat such as Sterno) in the rocks.  Using wooden skewers, guests can roast their marshmallows directly over these flames.  Think outside the box when creating your s’mores – flavored marshmallows, peanut butter cups or mints as your chocolate and various flavors of graham crackers.  The possibilities are endless!
  2. Watermelon:  When I think of summertime in the South, it’s not complete without watermelon.  Create an evening fellowship enjoying this summer staple.  You can incorporate other fruits, as well, by carving a watermelon as a bowl or basket and filling it with chunks of summertime fruits.  And, if your group is up for it, end the evening with an old-fashioned seed-spitting contest!
  3. Ice Cream Sundaes:  Most everyone loves ice cream!  Offer ice cream in a few different flavors and have guests create their own sundaes with all the toppings.  (If your group is smaller and you have access to ice cream freezers, consider homemade ice cream instead!)
  4. Sno-Cones/Shaved Ice:  Bring out the kid in all of your guests by indulging in summertime sno-cones and shaved ice.  Many party companies have machines available for rent.  Allow your guests to create their sno-cones with an assortment of flavored syrups.  You can buy these at most grocery stores during the summer months.

Summertime provides an opportunity for a lot of fun, outdoor catering events.  Often, they can be very nostalgic in nature, bringing back snacks you enjoyed as a kid on hot, summer nights!