How to Make Your Church Staff Retreat More Effective

by Calvin Wittman on Friday, September 30, 2011

Most of us have attended staff retreats of one sort or another. They're a time when we get away from the exigencies of the church to consider bigger issues such as purpose and direction. Sometimes we just try to get everyone together and sort out the church calendar. But staff retreats are not always as effective as we would like them to be. Sometimes they are more about identifying problems than they are about solving them, more about complaining than brainstorming.

After all the discussion about plans and observations, your staff needs to make decisions. Years of holding staff retreats with varying degrees of success have helped me compose seven critical questions I believe can make any retreat more effective.

What will we do?

Since it is impossible to implement every idea presented, ask "What will we do?" The answers will determine your focus and priorities as a staff and a church. In certain cases, determining what you will not do will leave you with a list of things you hope to accomplish. This process can be painful, as it is here that you will make critical decisions. However, unless you determine specific actions during your retreat you will probably not see any concrete results afterward.

Who will be responsible for it?

Give individual staff members, ministry teams, or leaders in your church responsibility for each action. Remember that everybody's job is nobody's job. Your team members need not only action items, but also the accompanying authority for each of the ministry decisions made. When a team in involved, make sure one person on that team is responsible for making sure things get done.

What plans should we make before implementation?

The old adage that a failure to plan is a plan to fail is often true. Planning answers the "how" question: How will this ministry or idea come to fruition? When will we implement it? What other ministries will be involved? How will it impact our other ministries? I find that getting that plan on paper not only helps me as the pastor see what the responsible person is thinking, it also helps that person think through the issue. Every effective ministry involves a well-thought plan.

What will it accomplish?

This question looks for an end goal. Many ideas sound great during the heat of discussion, but in the end don't accomplish anything significant. Asking what a ministry plan will accomplish will also help you evaluate whether or not the investment of time and resources would match your overall vision and mission.

When will it get done?

Time specificity is a must when it comes to planning ministries. Actions that have no due dates tend to fall prey to the tyranny of the urgent. Tasks that aren't "due" tend to remain undone. Ensure the responsible person for implementing the ministry understands there is a time when they must have their plan ready and hold them to that date. Due dates are meaningless if people are not held accountable.

How will we measure success?

If you cannot measure a plan's success, you cannot know whether or not you have accomplished your goal. Determining success enables you to celebrate victories, or to reevaluate plans when they do not meet your expectations.

How will we follow up?

Every successful plan needs supervision to ensure sustained results, and proper continuation or closure. Accomplish this through a simple meeting to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your plan. Such follow-up measures can also help your team determine if your plan could be reproduced and adapted in other ministries.

Staff retreats are only as effective as you make them. As the leader of your church and its staff, the success of your retreat will depend primarily on you. Getting the right answers depends on your asking the right questions. While these seven questions are not exhaustive, they are a good place to start.

What questions could you add that would personalize and enhance your staff retreat?

Dr. Calvin Wittman is pastor of Applewood Baptist Church, Wheat Ridge, Colorado. He serves as a trustee at Criswell College, and regularly contributes to Open Windows, a monthly LifeWay devotional publication

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