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!

You Found It! Men’s Retreat Ideas and Tips

We’ve noticed there is quite a bit less online information on men’s retreats than women’s, and the fall retreat season is approaching. So here are some theme ideas and tips for men’s retreats.

  1. Read “40 Manly Retreat Themes” by the Christian Camp Pro blog.  From “The Challenge: Fear Not, Stand Firm – Exodus 14:13” to “Service: The Authority of Christ – Mark 4:37-41” you’ll find 40 different topics with accompanying scripture references to help you find a great, manly, theme for your next retreat. You mean, men don’t like Christmas teas?
  2. Check out the teaching set “33 The Series”. Thirty-three is “designed to inspire and equip men to pursue authentic manhood as modeled by Jesus Christ in the 33 years He lived on earth.” There are four different sets available, each comprised of six sessions. You could choose a few sessions to include, or start the first portion of the series at a men’s retreat, and then continue it at a church, meeting once a week. I’ve known men who have gone through this Bible study and they have found it to be encouraging and practical.
  3. Host a panel, instead of a speaker.  Instead of asking men to sit down and listen to a single speaker for several hours, go a different route. Choose a topic and invite a panel of experts to come and answer the men’s questions in person. This is a less common approach, it can address questions specific to those who attend, and it adds variety by including multiple experts.
  4. Get moving. Don’t forget to provide attendees with time to decompress and have fellowship with other men. Invigorating outdoor activities are especially popular: fishing, water sports, horse shoes or hiking. If you need to stay indoors try billiards, darts, or bowling.

What was the best men’s retreat you’ve ever organized? What do you think made it so successful? We want our online community to share their challenges and joys- so we can encourage each other and learn together. Leave your comments below.

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!

Planning An Event For Single Moms

According to “How Did Work-Life Balance in the US Get So Awful?” published in the Atlantic in June 2013:

  • One in four households in the US are headed by a single mom.
  • The average income in a single mother home is $23,000.
  • Almost 90% of single mothers report a severe time shortage.

I would propose that single moms have a deep need for the educational, social and spiritual aspects of a faith based event, but that it is often unattainable due to schedule or cost. How could you plan an event that would be accessible for them?Hispanic Mother & Two Boy Children Family on Beach
1.  Provide childcare and activities for children of all ages. Children do not stop needing care once they are in Kindergarten. A single mom might be very hard pressed to spend money on a babysitter, or call in a favor with a grandparent or friend. Offer a program for elementary and middle school children in addition to care for younger ages, the more appealing the better. Think indoor pool, as opposed to “homework room”.
2.  Limit the time commitment. An unending list of tasks lies ahead of single mothers every weekend. Laundry, food prep, errands, house cleaning, repairs, sports events, homework help… A four day or even two day event is more of a time commitment for these women than for those in a two parent home. Could you offer a schedule that spans a Friday evening and Saturday morning? Or perhaps a single day conference or retreat?
3.  Go high on the felt need scale. I would imagine that single mothers have quite a bit of felt need, and that to motivate them to make the sacrifices to attend any event, you’re going to need to speak to their felt needs. As with any target group, do your research on what they are looking for and struggle with and plan accordingly.

Ministry to single mothers offers great potential and a unique set of complications. Think through both of these carefully as you seek to serve this particular group.

Summer Series: Celebrating the Fourth of July

When it comes to celebrations, the Fourth of July provides a great outlet for an outdoor party as an addition to a retreat or a stand-alone event.  Since this holiday is often celebrated with family, there is an opportunity to have a family-friendly aspect to your retreat, where guests of all ages can come together for a fun-filled afternoon or evening.

july fourth picnicHere are some ideas to consider when planning Fourth of July festivities:

  • Location:  Many people associate the Fourth of July with fireworks.  If possible, plan your event at a location where local fireworks can be easily viewed.  This provides a great finale to your party.  If this is not an option, consider an outdoor place with a lake or pond as a backdrop, as water activities can be an important entertainment aspect of your party.  Regardless of your location, make sure you check on fireworks laws and fishing/boating regulations before purchasing your own fireworks and planning water activities.  (For example, some locations don’t allow fireworks because of county regulations, while others allow certain types of fireworks such as sparklers.)
  • Decorations:  Fourth of July celebrations are easy to decorate.  Simply think red, white and blue.  Flags, stars, festive centerpieces, banners and tablecloths in these colors offer a quick and simple way to enhance your event.  A cute idea for a path to your picnic is to create white stars out of flour.  You can do this by spraying grass with water (even in a spray bottle), using a cardboard star cutout and sifting flour onto the cutout.
  • Food:  Classic picnic fare is always a good choice for Fourth of July festivities.  Hot dogs, hamburgers, barbecue or even a fish fry are great ideas for your holiday meal.  Festive sides and desserts including grilled corn, red/white/blue rice krispie treats cut into star shapes, star shaped fruit and chocolate covered pretzel sticks with red/white/blue sprinkles can add to your meal.  Pinterest is a great resource for picnic food ideas.  If your event is at a conference center, work with their food service department to create a fun atmosphere where food can be a focal point of the party.
  • Activities:  Classic games such as cornhole, horseshoes, potato sack races, three-legged races and croquet are low-maintenance activities that can go on throughout your picnic.  Consider other fun events such as pie-eating contests, water activities (if available) or softball.  Add Fourth of July trivia sheets to your tables for guests to enjoy while they wait for their meal.  Child-friendly things such as sidewalk chalk and bubbles are a fun addition.  If possible, easy to handle fireworks such as sparklers are also a great idea.

Celebrating the Fourth of July with family and friends is something we have been doing for years.  If your event falls during this holiday, don’t forget to incorporate an afternoon or evening to celebrate America.  Creating a family-friendly atmosphere will make your guests feel right at home!

Popular Christian Books: Inspiring Ideas For Your Next Event.

Even if you’re not a reader- spending time in a bookstore can be a great research tool. If you’re an event planner that helps organize faith based events, I’d suggest a visit to a Christian book store in your area.

Many booksOnce inside, look around. Publishing houses and marketing firms have spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars to choose and promote the books, CD’s, and DVD’s you see around you. Their target audience probably overlaps with your target audience; youth and adults who are interested in hearing what God has to say about their lives, and how they should interact with their families, co-workers and friends.

Scan the best seller shelves, usually set near the front of the store. What titles are selling? What are they about? Who are they targeting?

I did a little research for you and created this list of several popular Christian book titles for June 2014.

  • Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine by Max Lucado.
  • From Grouchy To Great: Finding Joy In The Journey of Motherhood by Ruth Schwenk.
  • Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest by Bonnie Gray
  • The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller
  • 12 Extraordinary Women: How God Shaped Women of the Bible and What He Wants To Do With You by John MacArthur
  • Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues by N.T. Wright

What do these titles spark in you as an event planner? By looking at these books I see an audience who has everyday challenges that they need help with, and a hope that God can meet them where they are. How can you help provide information and space that can move people along in their Christian walk? Happy bookstore visiting! Where else do you go for inspiration?