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When organizing a spiritual retreat, minimal planning is key to successcomment (0)

February 21, 2008

By Josh Rutledge

A spiritual retreat, whether alone or with a group, can renew strength for the Christian walk and provide peace in the midst of anxiety, stress or depression.

But according to Gregory Frizzell, prayer and spiritual awakening specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and the North American Mission Board, many retreats only provide temporary answers to life’s larger problems.

Often newly discovered strength and resolve are quickly overcome by the busyness of life. 
It doesn’t have to be that way, however. As leaders plan a group retreat, they should take the time to ensure it does not become just an escape for themselves and those they lead, according to Frizzell and Norfleete Day, associate professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham.
Leaders can do this by keeping the purpose of a retreat in mind and providing the elements needed to successfully accomplish it.

“The purpose of a spiritual retreat is to bring people into the presence of God so they will want to go deeper,” Frizzell said. “It is to move people, inspire people and instruct people.”
Day added, “Service to God can be draining. Retreats are supposed to renew the individual so the person can then go back to normal life and engage with people.”

It is imperative that leaders promote the retreat as a time of renewal — not a time to simply run away from society. Effective promotion can not only gain a larger audience but also prevent people from viewing it as a closed event for certain individuals, which happens too often, Frizzell said.
One of the most important elements to keep in mind is to avoid planning too much and turning the event into more of a conference than a retreat.

“A retreat implies there is minimal instruction,” Day said. “Too many people feel like they need to fill all the time, but the purpose is for the individual to be alone with God.”
For that reason, Frizzell recommends not having a detailed schedule for the retreat. If there is a general outline, then do not distribute it to attendees. People should be focused on meeting with God, not on watching a clock, he said.

And since a retreat is meant to be a quiet and personal encounter, it is also helpful to host the event in a quiet place.

“I recommend going to a beautiful, quiet place in creation,” Day said. “Encounters with creation are an almost universal way to engage with God. Being in nature allows us to be quiet.”
In addition, it is important to provide materials for attendees to use both at the retreat and after such as prayer guides that address specific situations.

According to Frizzell, people need to be taught how to pray, what to pray for and even why to pray, because oftentimes they are simply overwhelmed. The more practical a retreat, the more successful it will be in establishing a daily pattern of personal time in prayer and devotion.
Another way to ensure a lasting effect is to encourage attendees to partner with either an individual or a small group following the retreat. By meeting together on a regular basis, people can encourage one another to press on in their renewed strength.

Finally, it is helpful to keep a journal while at the retreat.
“Encourage people to write things down,” Day said. “Putting it on paper allows people to articulate what is floating around in their head, and that can serve as a guide in their personal devotions.”
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