My mom is thinking about putting on a Women’s Retreat through her church. Having just attended one, and a few more previously, she asked for some ideas. Suddenly, a whole philosophy unfolded. First of all, there are two types of retreats: a retreat put on for a specific purpose, like for women or youth or addicts, and then there is a retreat one takes to be alone. These posts discuss the kind of retreat put on by a group of people, with specifically religious intent, specifically for women. At this point many readers should understandably retreat (!!) from this post as it likely won’t interest you.
A few ideas about what I think makes a women’s retreat rich*:
If you’ve ever gotten a group of women together, you know one thing is manifestly bound to occur: Talking. It might be easy to plan a weekend of fellowship, but much harder to convince ladies to quiet down. In this vein, we must be mindful of the differing maturity levels present on a retreat; no matter the duration of our walks, we are each a different spec in the kaleidoscope of Christian maturity (something very different than age). Many women on a retreat spend time in prayer and quiet reading each day, but others only worship Sunday morning. For this reason, I think it supremely important to set aside quiet time. This means no talking– a designated hour of silence. And even better, two hours of silence. Establish sacred hours in the morning and the afternoon during which no one is allowed to talk. It might sound tyrannical to dictate when someone can speak, but most of the time, women are grateful to be encouraged into quietness because they may not go there on their own. Providing guiding questions or suggested Scripture for reflection can direct those not accustomed to quietness or who have a hard time getting focused. Hey, sometimes we just need to shut up and be with God.
Now, that being said about silence, talking and visiting are important aspects of our relational nature. I believe God created us relationally as a reflection of Himself. We are meant for relationship! In listening to women, I’ve often heard that having children can suck a social life right out of you. Even with a loving husband to watch the little ones, it can be hard to get out of the house and sometimes women express feeling disconnected from the church circle because of their devotion to the kids. Let the retreat be a way for women to reconnect. I adhere strongly to the school of not-cramming-so-much-into-a-short-time-that-there-is-no-time-to-just-be. Creating space for free time may be a good method for handling this conundrum. Free time might mean a trail hike or fun craft, but it could also be sitting down on a couch with new friends. Many of us are used to doing, doing, doing and playing with a craft let’s us stay busy while still making conversation. The same is true for outdoor activities… not everyone is an artist! Free time can be an incredible tool for bringing people together, and offering fun activities prevents it from becoming a lull in the day.
Fellowship takes many forms, and incorporating small groups into a retreat allows women to meet people they may miss otherwise. An unfortunate quality found in many churches and circles is cliquishness (real word), the tendency of people to form exclusive groups. God calls us to unity and disapproves of division. Small groups are one weapon for fighting cliques. The key is establishing groups ahead of time and assigning them randomly. If someone knows the women coming on the retreat well enough, I suggest intentionally separating certain friends or friend circles into different groups to avoid forming a group within which people feel left out. It’s okay to do this, everyone will survive unscathed. If there are varying age groups, putting younger and older women together in a group may help breach any initial awkwardness as the older women are generally more open to sharing and will encourage the younger ones to do so also. It’s important to be aware of personality types too; consider who the strong personalities are and divide them up evenly among the groups. Four or five people is usually a workable group. Most often, small groups follow a message and, when used this way, guiding questions can ignite discussion over the ideas presented in the message while also preventing uncomfortable silences. Let the building of new connections be your guide!
Everyone is a little bit afraid to share the nitty-gritty of their spiritual journey. Some of us were lifted from the mire of a very dark place. Will I be accepted once this thing is known about me? And even though we ask that question, we still desperately long to be known. Despite the difficulty, revealing the work of God in one’s life precipitates remarkable consequence, even if we can’t always see it. Some kind of emotional boundary is breached. When a few women are willing to be vulnerable, it encourages other women to do the same. Consider designating a time fully devoted to sharing testimonies, or sprinkle testimonies throughout the whole weekend. Opening with testimonies on the first night can foster an atmosphere of vulnerability that stretches through the entire retreat, and incorporating testimonies as an introduction for group time can grab the audience’s attention and really draw them into the message or activity that follows. Prior to the retreat, take volunteers willing to give testimonies and let them prepare ahead of time, providing some guidelines concerning length and theme. It may be helpful to choose a focus, like “how has God has been faithful in your life”? Discourage women from sharing overly personal or graphic details as these can sometimes lead listeners into sin.
Consider a new approach to giving a message. If there is a woman or two women in your church who are gifted speakers, or are willing to speak, recruit them to do the teaching. While bringing in an outside speaker is a great option, there’s such power in hearing from someone these women already know and respect. Plus it fosters an atmosphere of intimacy, and not only do we avoid the hub-bub of having someone renowned, but we save money too! For a one or two night retreat, two messages is probably the max tolerance of most ladies, but I do encourage interactive group time; getting the whole group together to read Scripture and pray together or share what God’s taught you during the retreat. Another teaching option is to ditch the traditional message altogether and have “classes” instead. Let women in the church volunteer to share advice, teaching, and discussion over topics like sex in marriage, sex for singles, apologetics, fruits of the spirit, perspective and raising godly children. Plan different classes at different times throughout the day so people can attend multiple classes in one day. Classes give women a chance to ask hard questions and interact with other women interested in the same issues. Some women don’t have anywhere to turn with struggles in their sex life or with their children; offering classes may afford them some rich spiritual counsel and, ultimately, help them feel less alone.
*Please note, there is no right way to put on a retreat. The Word says in Matthew 18: 20, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” We can gather a hundred million different ways and the Lord greets us still.
Look for more ideas to come!
Have you planned or participated in a Women’s Retreat? What works for your church? What advice do you have for someone hoping to plan such a retreat?