5 Elements of the Perfect Church Staff Retreat

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There’s nothing like a church staff retreat to get people on the same page, get excited about the vision, plan for the culture, and contribute to a positive team culture.

A church staff retreat gives everyone the opportunity to work on the ministry, not just in the ministry.

Done right, a staff retreat can be productive, effective, and fun. People will return to everyday ministry energized and excited about the future. But do it wrong and people go back to the office feeling two days behind schedule.

For it to truly work, you don’t just need a bunch of team development ideas or a few vision-filled team dinners. You need the right people with a focused agenda and the right activities.

The Perfect Staff Retreat Agenda

Now is a great time to plan your next church staff retreat, so as you put together the agenda, here are five things to include.

#1 – Your Staff Retreat Agenda Should Include Time for Spiritual Formation

Churches have a lot in common with businesses. 

Even though we use different terminology, we do a lot of the same things that for-profit companies do. Things like…

  • Finance, including budgeting and spending
  • Operations, including planning and strategy
  • Marketing, including advertising and outreach
  • Human resources, including hiring, firing, and developing people.

Your church is much more than a business, but it is at least a business.

In fact, churches ought to be some of the most well-run organizations on the planet because our mission is more important than anything else.

But as you plan your church staff retreat, make sure you lean into the spiritual side of leadership. Don’t make it all business and all planning. Make sure you include spiritual development on the agenda.

If you’re looking for a practical tool to use, here is a free resource. 

These devotions were written for pastors to use in team meetings and team retreats.

#2 – Your Staff Retreat Should Include a Time of Leadership Development

Spiritual formation and leadership development are related, but they are uniquely different.

You want everyone on your team to get better, to keep developing skills that will make them better at their jobs or in their volunteer roles. When you get your leaders together in a retreat setting, make sure you build in some time to help them skill up.

In our discovery phase creating The Leadership Course, we surveyed hundreds of pastors about the skills they wanted to see in their leaders and volunteers. We consolidated all of those skills into this list, which we call “12 Core Skills.”

Imagine if all of your leaders developed or continued to develop these skills in their personal lives.  

They would do their jobs better. They would lead better as a volunteer. They would be better moms, dads, employees, and people.

We created a curriculum around these 12 core skills and it’s a part of that leadership development course. You can access this curriculum (which has both digital resources you can use and video teaching that you can play) immediately when you join Church Fuel.  

Click here to join Church Fuel.  

This curriculum works great as a kickoff to a regular team meeting, or pick and choose topics for your next church staff retreat.

#3 – Your Staff Retreat Should Include Team Building that Helps Create Culture

Team building isn’t all trust falls and personality tests.

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni writes, “Members of great teams trust one another on a fundamental, emotional level, and they are comfortable being vulnerable with each other about their weaknesses, mistakes, fears, and behaviors.” 

That kind of trust isn’t built overnight, but every time you have a meeting or retreat, you can add a building block.

That’s why it’s important to carve out time to actually build culture and help people understand and trust each other.

Many churches do experience a ton of value by working through Myers Briggs or DISC and talking about interpersonal relationships. Tons of churches have grown together by processing through the Enneagram, perhaps bringing in a coach to help facilitate conversations.

While formal team development exercises can be helpful, don’t forget about less formal activities. Tanys Mosher, Communications Director at Southgate Community Church, says this:

Ziplining, hiking, Spelunking, road trip in an RV – these shared experiences have given us more personal connection and trust-building along with many laughs. We’ve worked through personality tests as well but the above has been far more productive on the human end of team building.

Fun Team Building Ideas for Your Church Staff Retreat

  • Brian Smith, a Church Fuel member, recommends Escape Rooms. “It was fantastic and required everyone’s ability to get out.”
  • Make a playlist. Ask everyone to submit a song that summarizes their life and listen during breaks.
  • Kari Sullivan remembers a staff and family camping trip with lots of time for just hanging out.
  • Make a bio book. Joan Garry suggests everyone write a 1-2 page personal (not professional) bio and put them together in a notebook. Have everyone read and give a quiz.
  • Wii Bowling or a tournament around some other video games.
  • Bill Rose, another Church Fuel member, says: “For some reason, our most memorable was a Scavenger Hunt. It sounds youth groupish but we had 3 teams of 4, ages 31-66, piled in cars driving all over town and solving riddles for 3 hours.

Team building activities aren’t just for fun and games (though there’s certainly value there). But as your team learns about each other and learns to work together, you’re building a culture to support your strategy.

Jenni Catron says leaders are keepers of culture. Your church staff retreat is an opportunity to build and curate a staff culture. It’s much more than an event, it’s an opportunity to build on your values and help everyone learn to trust those who are working together on the same strategy.

#4 – Your Staff Retreat Should Include a Time of Honest Evaluation

When you gather key leaders who care about the future of the church, one of the most meaningful things you can do is look back on what happened. 

When you look back, set aside phrases like “I liked that” or “I didn’t like that.” Your preferences aren’t what needs evaluation.

Instead, you should push hard to talk about effectiveness. Did this program accomplish its intended goal? Is this ministry helping us accomplish our mission? Those are far better questions.

Look at expectations and reality.  Talk about numbers. Evaluate plans compared to the outcome.

Ed Catmull of Pixar/Walt Disney Animation talks about the Braintrust, a group of people assembled to evaluate every movie and give notes to the director. In Creativity, Inc., he writes:

“The Braintrust is fueled by the idea that every note we give is in the service of a common goal: Supporting and helping each other as we try to make better movies.”

Evaluation isn’t just an activity. It’s a mindset. 

But each time you take an honest look back, you’re helping create a culture of continual improvement, a place where it’s normal to get better, not coast on past success or get used to a steady decline. 

Here is another tool to help you evaluate honestly. It’s a set of 7 distinct evaluation forms to help you look back on a special event, staff performance, a sermon, a church service, your website, and a ministry or program. There’s even a “secret shopper” form you could give to someone you ask to attend your church for the first time and evaluate their experience from an outsider’s perspective.

This particular resource is a part of the members’ Resource Library in Church Fuel.

#5 – Your Staff Retreat Should Allow Plenty of Time to Plan and Look Forward

There comes a time in most team retreats where some people feel like it’s time to start on the real work.  

This isn’t to say that spiritual formation and team development isn’t real work. In many ways, it’s the most important work.  

Team building and talking about the past aren’t good enough for some people. They want to make plans and get to work. While you’ll likely have to pull these people through the first parts of your staff retreat agenda, this is where they shine.

William Vanderbloemen says a staff retreat is an ideal time to cast vision or, “If your team has drifted from their mission, re-direct everyone back.”

At your staff retreat, you don’t want to look to the immediate future. You want to look into the near future and slightly beyond. The staff retreat isn’t the time to talk about this Sunday or even next month. You want to talk through the next horizon and the next milestone.

Dan Reiland says, “Be fierce about making progress, not merely dealing with more maintenance.” 

Our favorite tool for this is the Two Page Plan® – a strategic ministry plan that packs everything important into just two pages. There’s a PDF you can print, an online version where you can create, save, edit, and share, and a course to show you exactly how to use it.

The Two Page Plan gives you the space to talk about the vision for the future but keeps you from spinning off into visionary la-la land. The plan, not just a big vision, is what gets your team on the same page and moving in the same direction.

The Two Page Plan template really can guide your staff retreat planning session. And once you complete it, you can revisit from year to year, adjusting what needs to be changed for the current ministry season and reinforcing what should stay the same no matter what.

Mary Jinks, the Director of Operations at Grace Church in Knoxville experienced positive results as her team went through this planning process. Check out her story.

“Our entire staff went through about 5 months of deep depression. Then we decided it was time to do something about it. Stopped talking about “when things get back to normal” and started a whole new plan. Used church fuel’s ministry plan template. Spent 3 months developing and rolling out a completely revamped ministry plan. The staff is off the charts excited. Our people are re-engaging in new ways. Giving is up. In-person attendance is increasing. Online attendance is gaining momentum. Hang in there. Better days are ahead. Pray and seek. Love and bless. Go and do.”

Change Your Staff Retreat Agenda to Suit Your Needs

The perfect staff meeting usually includes components from each of these five areas.

  1. Spiritual Formation
  2. Leadership Development
  3. Team Building
  4. Looking Back
  5. Looking Ahead

But sometimes, you might need to throw out the perfect agenda and focus on just one or two activities.  

For example, in a normal year, this agenda might hit the sweet spot. But coming through all you’ve been through, you might prayerfully decide what your team needs most is a focus on emotional or spiritual health. It might be more important for you to rest and refresh rather than plan and advance.

Know your people. And pastor your people.

Other churches might find all five things in one event is still too much, choosing to break things into two parts. Something like this might suit your needs:

  • A Retreat focused on spiritual formation, leadership development, and/or team building
  • An Advance focused on evaluating the past and planning for the future

Adapt this agenda to suit your needs. Contextualize this plan to fit your context.

There’s nothing like a great church staff retreat to get people on the same page, excited about the vision and plan for the future, and contributing to a positive team culture.

Use the time to step back FROM the ministry and work ON the ministry.

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