Tips on Selecting a Retreat Center

Retreats can be a lot of fun but they can also be a lot of stress. One of the things you can do to reduce that stress is to properly evaluate a retreat center. I recommend visiting a retreat center before you deposit on the weekend.  When you evaluate a retreat center don’t go alone; instead, bring a couple members of your youth team with you, it will make for a fun outing and they may notice something you may have missed. It is also not a bad idea to have a camera handy as well. Most retreat centers you need to book a year in advance so the camera can help you remember what the rooms look like so you can plan your set up appropriately.

There are at least four categories you want to consider, facility, food, extras, and relationship. One of the first things you want consider is the facility. Will the facility meet your needs? Is the meeting room large enough, do they offer a meeting room with your rental, or is it an extra charge? Will they lock the meeting room for you when it is not in use? What do the bunk rooms look like? Do they have separate accommodations for your speaker? Another thing you want to consider is the cleanliness of the facility.  It is common for many facilities to be older which can sometimes be difficult for students who have allergies.

After you have considered the facility the next thing you want to consider is food for the weekend. Some retreat centers will allow you to use their kitchen and bring your own food. While this can be a great cost saving measure it also adds to the planning and the stress. If you decide to use their catering there are a couple things you want to be aware of.  First, it is important to know how much food they plan for each person. This can be a really big deal—a few years ago I was on a high school trip with a few of my students, we sat down to breakfast and we learned this lesson the hard way. The retreat center had only allotted two small pancakes per person. If you know anything about teenagers, you know that two small pancakes is a snack for a lot them. The next thing you want to consider is if they are capable of handling any food allergies your students might have.

Third item you should consider when evaluating a retreat center is what extras they might offer, such as a gymnasium, ropes course, game room, or paintball. Some locations have some really elaborate equipment and activities that can enhance your weekend. Be sure to check that your church’s liability insurance covers activities like these before participating in them.  Another thing to consider with these extras, especially with a gymnasium, is to find out how the retreat center allocates time at these activities. It is nice when facilities have signups for gymnasiums. It means you need to stick with a schedule but it can save a lot of headaches. Over the years I have literally observed pastors get into arguments over gym time.

The final item when considering a retreat center is if you can develop a long term relationships with that particular retreat center. This is an intangible quality, but by developing a relationship it can be really helpful when you have a problem. I know during the recession one retreat center we have used for about five years actually held our spot without a deposit, because frankly we could not afford one at the time.

After you have considered the facility, food, extras and relationship, it is time to sign the contract and make a deposit. It is important to fully read any contracts before you sign, being sure to pay attention to any dates in the contract, the costs, and any guarantees you might make. I also recommend having someone else review the contract before you sign it. All that is left is to mail in the check and starting working on your theme!

You can download a retreat center evaluation tool here.


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