We’re just a few days past our first Pursue Coaches’ Wives Retreat and I’m so thankful for how smoothly everything went! I knew we were in good hands partnering with Illini Land FCA because we’ve attended other events that Liz has put together. Regardless, it’s one thing to attend an event and quite another to work together to put the details together, get the word out, prepare the talks for sessions and everything else that goes on behind the scenes.
If you’ve never put together a retreat your head may be spinning, so I thought I’d give you a recap of some of the behind-the-scenes things we did to prepare for our first retreat and a few things we’re already doing to prepare for next year.
Before the retreat, we had a lot of different things to figure out. Thankfully, many of them were quick because of previous relationships our FCA group has with local venues. We knew which hotel set up would be best and we also knew the window of time we were looking at which narrowed our weekends down considerably.
Once our date was set (January 31-February 1) we needed to figure out a lot of the details:
- Theme, Verse, Name
- Schedule and Format for sessions
- Extra activities
- Cost and what would cost include
Thankfully we had a small team and we were on the same page about things, When we needed to make decisions we could do so quickly. We also chose to keep things simple. For example. Rather than worrying about creating a program with outlines, we opted to provide people with a custom spiral notebook. They will get a lot more use out of the notebook and it was a lot easier for us in the long run. Liz created personalized name tags for each attendee which included the sessions they signed up for on Saturday. This reduced confusion significantly and was a very welcoming touch.
Another way we chose to make things easier is that we opened a block of hotel rooms, but left reservations up to registrations. They were free to stay at the hotel or make other arrangements. Regardless, we didn’t have to deal with pairing up roommates or figuring out who was staying at the hotel.
This also kept registration costs much lower. Our registration costs included the event, t-shirt, journal, pen, dinner, snacks, and a sundae bar. Breakfast was provided by the hotel and the event ended by lunchtime so our guests we fed well the entire time they were with us.
One thing we thought of late was a group discount. That will happen right away next year.
This was the most challenging and frustrating part in many ways. Social media algorithms are a beast to battle but we were doing so over the holidays which made it even more challenging. We created videos, a Facebook event, and promoted the event and website link on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and through Email.
We shared about the event in targeted Facebook groups, Instagram stories, tagged people, we even did a registration giveaway. With all that, we still had people the week of the event who were hearing about things for the first time. (sigh)
The lesson I learned for next time: You can never promote enough. Just keep sharing and sharing and sharing. The Illini Land FCA team had a Facebook Header and I think that would have been a good thing for us to switch out on our pages. Next year we will hopefully have more people help us promote as well since we have previous attendees.
Before the retreat, we also had several meetings to discuss different aspects of the sessions and to fine-tune our talks. Since the team was spread across 3 states this meant chatting over video calls, voxer, and a lot of emails.
On the day of the retreat, we divided our tasks into set up (thanks to Liz and Robbie for doing the majority of this work and making things look absolutely amazing) check-in, vendors, and making sure people were feeling welcome as they entered the event.
Thankfully women are pretty chatty and we didn’t have to do much to entertain women as they arrived but we were ready to make everyone feel welcome if needed! We also planned some activities to fill in the silent times that we didn’t end up using. We had an area for women to paint their nails, and another to spend time relaxing and coloring while they chatted.
Our schedule included group programming Friday night and breakout sessions on Saturday as well as a Q & A session. Everything was well-received, although I wouldn’t be surprised to hear women say they prefer more breakout options rather than the Q & A. We started Saturday morning with a lesson on the BOAT Bible Study method which is a great way to inductively study the Bible.
Preparing for Next Year
It’s hard to believe we’re already talking about next year but at the retreat questions were already coming my way about next year’s event. After a few days of rest, I sent a request to some of the team asking them to join me for a month praying about the word purse. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that God has given me that word for 2020 and the thought I can’t seem to shake is that there are more Biblical lessons to learn around that theme.
One thing I know for sure is that God was present at our retreat and I am so incredibly thankful for all the ways he covered that weekend and brought the right group together for an awesome first retreat. I’m incredibly thankful for the leadership at Illini Land FCA who heard about a dream and kept it moving forward. And I’m excited to see all that will happen as this retreat continues to grow!
If you’re considering putting together a conference or event I encourage you to start by finding a team that believes in the same mission you are striving to accomplish. Find people who have different strengths than you but who also understands the vision you’re presenting. It’s important to have people who can unite around the same mission. But it’s also incredibly valuable to have a variety of strengths, gifts and experiences come to the table together.