Retreat or Conference, That Is The Question

You may be a newbie planner, or a veteran who needs a quick review, here are two definitions you don’t want to confuse. The Oxford Dictionary defines the words “retreat” and “conference” very differently, although sometimes we tend to use them interchangeably.

  • Retreat: “noun: a quiet or secluded place in which one can rest and relax:their mountain retreat in New Hampshire.  A period of seclusion for the purposes of prayer and meditation:the bishop is away on his annual retreat before his ordination he went on retreat.”
  • Conference: “a formal meeting for discussion:he gathered all the men around the table for a conference.  A formal meeting that typically takes place over a number of days and involves people with a shared interest, especially one held regularly by an association or organization:an international conference on the environment the third annual National Wilderness Conference.”

Have you ever been on a retreat that involved no time for rest or meditation, and was really just a conference in a nice location? Or perhaps you’ve attended a conference, where you invested time and money to educate yourself on a certain topic, only to find far too many lengthy free-time blocks?

As Christians, I think it’s important to know and understand the definition of these two events, so that we can plan and advertise truthfully.

If rest, relaxation, prayer and meditation define a retreat: how might that change your planning process?  It’s often hard for us to put away our smart phones, stop checking our email, and listening for our text pings. How can you appropriately shield your guests from this draw- even for just a few hours? What might they be able to cultivate in their life and spirit if given the chance to worship, pray, and focus their attention wholly on God’s Word for more than ten rushed minutes? Planning this type of time is one of my favorite challenges.  Because if you do it right you can bring people before the throne of God’s grace and peace, and see them leave changed.

Conference planning requires different questions.  If a conference centers on discussing a particular topic, how can you best define the parameters of that topic, identify and invite high quality experts, and create an atmosphere of in-depth discussion and interaction?  In a real way, you, the planner, are setting the bar and inviting event attendees into the physical and mental space you have created.  What a joy and responsibility.

As your next event approaches, be sure to carefully define what type of event it is, and root your planning process in that definition.