How to Prepare for a Productive Planning Retreat

One of the best investments of your time is to intentionally break away from your routine.

A well-executed staff planning retreat can become a turning point for you and your church.

It can feel difficult to break away from the demands of ministry, but it’s necessary and highly valuable.

There are many styles, formats and places for a retreat. But I recommend you keep it simple. It’s good to get “out of town” but not so far that it makes the trip complicated and overly expensive, because you are then less likely to go again.

In a planning retreat with your staff, you are focused on the purpose of writing a clear and measurable plan, on one page if possible, that helps you realize:

• Improvement
• Innovation
• Progress

The intent is not to improve everything, be innovative in all your ministries and make progress across the board.

The goal is to produce a short, specific and focused list that will result in measurable progress in alignment with your church mission.

Let me start with seven quick tips to make the most of your time away, and then offer a practical plan for you to follow.


1. Deepen your connection and chemistry.

One of the highest values of a staff retreat is to deepen relationships and increase connection. Extended time away from the office is a great way to enhance the chemistry within your staff culture.

Take time to play together and pray together.

2. Break your routine to increase creativity.

You are busy, run fast, and like all of us can fall into a very regular work pattern. This is your opportunity to break out and think out of the box. Resist the temptation to discuss some of your more immediate tasks and plans.

Take the opportunity of a retreat to work on your ministry, not just in it.

3. Be fierce about making progress, not merely dealing with more maintenance.

There is a certain amount of “machinery” at your church that you can’t ignore, and it needs to run smoothly. However, don’t let the machinery take over the mission! Don’t let it consume you.

Refuse to allow the retreat to drift into issues of maintenance. Focus on innovation, improvement and above all progress.

If you only make real and substantial headway in one area, that’s great and far better than dabbling 15 maintenance items.

At a retreat, be fierce about making progress, not merely dealing with more maintenance.

4. Don’t make the retreat complicated.

I’ve facilitated some church staff retreats where they made the actual retreat more complicated than the work they wanted to accomplish. They literally wore themselves out making a “cool” retreat; there was no energy left to do great thinking and planning.

5. Choose wisely the people who attend the retreat.

If you are a smaller church, there may be pressure to take the whole staff. I understand that, and that may be the best and right thing.

But as churches grow larger, it’s rare that the whole staff goes to any given retreat or learning event. It’s too many people.

Choose who attends not based on emotion or who might get their feelings hurt, but by who needs to be there to be most productive.

6. Don’t use retreat time to express unhappiness with the team, or surprise them with unexpected changes.

Speak the truth, deal with reality, but don’t confront a person or attack a ministry.

Yes, this happens on retreats. It’s obviously not a good practice. This kind of thing sucks the life right out of the retreat, breaks trust, and shuts down productivity almost entirely.

7. Bring a spirit of vision: God is with us, and we are in this together.

Cast vision and dream about what God can do.

Planning retreats are work but should also be fun. Enjoy your time together. Play a little and pray much.

These seven quick tips combined with an attitude of, “Let’s roll up our sleeves and make some progress,” will make for a great planning retreat.


This outline for your retreat is very simple. That’s why it works.

1. Begin with extended time in prayer.

Ask God to help you know His plans, more than asking Him to bless your plans.

2. Take some time to cast vision.

Talk about what you see God doing in the immediate future. About 18 months is a good time frame to dream and plan for.

3. Be sure to set aside some time to play together.

The important element here is “together.” Don’t give free time and say, “Go do your own thing.” It’s vital to have the staff engage in play together.

4. Set dedicated and defined sessions for planning.

Your best planning is typically focused at 12–18 months out. In more urgent situations, planning 3 to 6 to 9 months out may be appropriate.


1.What is working?
2. What is not working?
3. What will you improve?

• Make a list, then prioritize.
• Choose top 3–5 to focus on. Three is better, five is pushing it.
• Make assignments with dates and times.

Don’t be afraid to work late either playing, praying or planning.

Go for it!

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Dan Reiland is the executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. This article was originally published on Reiland’s blog, Developing Church Leaders.

Dan Reiland
Dan Reiland

Dan Reiland is the executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and the author of several books including Confident Leader! Become One, Stay One (Thomas Nelson).