Location, Location, Location: Set Up for Success
The REAP Team is (and always has been) a traveling retreat ministry – we come to you. We love that our retreat work takes us to exotic locations such as Osage Bend, Missouri and Red Bud, Illinois. Our mini-road trips make for great team bonding and we all drive cars with great gas mileage.
We’ve been blessed to present retreats in a wide variety of locations – including (but not limited to) cathedrals, churches, retreat centers, rectory basements, school cafeterias, community centers, libraries, classrooms, gymnasiums, auditoriums, and barns. Our venues have run the gamut from elegant to janky to potentially haunted, and everything in between. From the brand-new to the bug-infested, chances are good that we’ve led a retreat there.
When choosing a location for a retreat – particularly a retreat for teenagers – we have a few suggestions that we’d like to offer in order to maximize the success of your event. These humble recommendations are all based upon our experiences of both the good and the not-so-good…
The Room Itself
If you’re in a parish or school with a lot happening and not a lot of places for it to happen, you might be limited when it comes to retreat room options. If that’s the case, work with what you’ve got. But when you can be choosy, we’d recommend rooms that meet the following standards:
- Our young people have come to expect some first world-level basics: functional air conditioning and central heating. You might think that goes without saying, but here we are… saying it.
- It makes kids feel important when we don’t always stick them in the parish’s ugliest room… if the room smells like mold, there’s water dripping from the ceiling, and the carpet is older than the students’ parents, try to find another spot.
- Intimacy matters – try not to host 15 students in the school gym. Plan your space around the size of the group. Make sure it’s roomy enough to play games but not so big that your voice echoes in a distracting manner.
- Be a little bit off the beaten path. No need to take the kids to the far end of campus because they need the exercise – but it helps minimize distractions if you aren’t next to the cafeteria, or above the band room, or under the gym (or all three at the same time…).
- Speaking of distractions – double check the doors for crazy-loud squeaking, guaranteed to turn heads whenever someone enters or exits in the middle of the presentation. We keep a can of WD-40 in our retreat kits at all times, and there has been more than one occasion where we were so glad we do.
- Make sure the room is safe and secure. Someone in the room should know the safety procedures for fire and tornados. Also, especially for retreats in busier parts of town, make sure the room can be locked down. We’ve had events where strangers have literally wandered in off the streets before… not only does that distract from the retreat in progress, but more importantly it isn’t safe for our young people (they almost certainly aren’t PGC compliant and we don’t have time to run their background checks).
- How close is the retreat space to the nearest restrooms? Are there multiple restrooms available for the students to access? Single-use, or lots of stalls? If you’ve got a group of 250 people, and only two bathrooms with three stalls apiece, your retreat is either going to need 30-minute breaks (which is a major buzzkill) or there’s no hope of staying on schedule.
- Speaking of breaks – when the weather’s nice, almost everyone enjoys taking their breaks outside. Look for a retreat space where there’s a safe outdoor area to hang out (i.e. not attached to busy streets) that can quickly be accessed (so it doesn’t take five minutes for people to make their way back to the room).
The Room Setup
Now that you’ve got the perfect spot, what do you do with it? Believe it or not, the room setup is almost as, if not equally as, important as the room itself. In order to be conducive to a fruitful retreat, there are several setup accommodations that are easy to achieve and make a huge difference in the success of the event.
- Choose the front of the room wisely. Decide which wall will become the ‘stage’ area (note: actual stage not necessary, especially for a group of 7 kids…) based on the minimum amount of distractions. It should be opposite the room’s main entrance, not in the sight-line of any bathrooms or other doors that might be used at random times, and ideally not in front of a lot of windows (we’d never be so arrogant as to assume the outside world isn’t more fascinating than the retreat content). Face the chairs opposite of any of these or other distracting factors.
- Speaking of chairs – if you’ve got options, choose moveable, comfortable (but not too comfortable) chairs. We have seen ‘get new chairs’ under suggestions for improvement on evaluation forms of more than one event. Apparently, a cooler room and a metal chair is not an ideal combination. That doesn’t mean we’d recommend upholstered armchairs and comfy couches, either… you can probably guess that those pose a significant risk of students falling asleep. Not to mention that those suckers are hard to move for some of our favorite icebreaker games, which often require chairs being repositioned into a circle.
- Once you’ve got your chair situation sorted, arrange the seats in rows, auditorium-style, with an aisle down the middle. Rows, instead of round tables, help keep the students focused on the presentation at the front of the room.
- Make sure you have any needed retreat supplies set up in the room ahead of time – any A/V needs (always, always, always test this equipment before the retreat begins to make sure it’s functional!), something to write on (like a dry erase board or chalkboard) if you so desire, coffee (a necessity, we daresay), tables for your supplies or for food, etc.
- Speaking of food setup – we have a whole ‘nother blog about that.
Certainly, we’re talking about the ideal setup here, and that’s not always within our (or your) power to provide. These are just our suggestions on things we’ve seen work well, and pitfalls to avoid, in order to help bring our best to our young people. We really believe that they deserve our best, and know that you do, too.
So find your space and set it up well – you’ll feel better knowing that, no matter what else may happen, you’ve done your best to give the Lord room to work.