A cool head and prayers are key to a retreat's success.
A cool head and prayers are key to a retreat's success.

As with secular events, organizational skills, commitment, and team effort go into planning a spiritual retreat. Designating responsibilities to people with the right skills for the tasks contributes significantly to positive results. No matter how meticulously planned an event an unanticipated glitch may crop up beyond the retreat coordinator’s control. A strong spiritual component is the secret power behind a retreat’s successful outcome.

Purpose and Participants

Identify the core objective and target participants of the retreat. What is the retreat about and what does it aim to accomplish? For example, a discernment retreat helps candidates explore a possible calling to a religious vocation. It also lets them see whether they are the right fit for a religious congregation and its charisma.

Who are the intended participants? In this case, the retreat may be conducted for women aged 18-29 who are seeking answers about their life’s mission.

Whatever the purpose of the retreat, define the what, why and target attendees in concrete terms. The more specific and explicitly stated the reason, the more achievable the goal. A clear direction thrusts you forward to the next step of the plan.

Type and Setup of Retreat

Determine the type of retreat that best suits its goal and participants. A retreat can be broadly categorized into group and individual types.

A common type is the directed group retreat led by a spiritual director. It addresses the needs of groups sharing similar characteristics (married couples, youth, people with addictions, etc.). A two-week summer camp with fun outdoor activities is perfect for a youth retreat. A weeklong live-in arrangement is ideal for vocation discernment to experience firsthand the community’s daily routine in real time.

An individual retreat may be appropriate for persons seeking a respite from their hectic life, grappling with a personal crisis and needing time off for solitude and privacy. This type of retreat offers a resolution to a problem or simply peace and quiet in a contemplative atmosphere. Depending on the individual’s needs, this could be a directed one-on-one retreat with a spiritual counselor or a silent let-alone retreat.

The type of retreat shapes the program of activities, the next step of the plan.

Retreat Agenda

Create the retreat program in consultation with the organizing committee and possibly some input from the target participants. Discuss a draft outline of the agenda, and secure the committee's approval of the working plan before fleshing out the details. The program includes the general theme, specific topics, sessions and schedule per activity. List all the people involved from planning to execution, working your way through from setup to cleanup. Obtain the contact information of the spiritual director, speakers, facilitators, team leaders, members and volunteers. Have the organizing committee review the content of the presentations and sign off on the final program. Consider alternative activities in case of last-minute changes or filling up extra time.

Administration and Logistics

Delegate and coordinate. Form teams from the pool of staff and volunteers to take charge of each program component (e.g., venue, finance, invitations, travel arrangements, food, registration, props and materials, cleaning, security, first-aid, music and prayer warriors). Prepare a backup plan in case of hitches or emergencies. Ensure accommodations are in place for people with special needs.