How to Plan a Leaders' Retreat

Some of my most cherished memories from serving as a Director of Women's Ministries come from the annual Women’s Board getaway to seek the Lord together. What initially began as a half-day devoted to corporate prayer and fasting morphed into a full-fledged overnight retreat. There’s nothing comparable to an extended, uninterrupted time to foster unity and friendship among leaders who share a common passion.

Jesus set this pattern in motion when He invited the disciples to leave the crowds and the unrelenting demands of serving to pray, rest, and learn from Him (Mark 3:20, 6:31). Just as it was difficult for the disciples to get away, there will never be a convenient time to carve out twenty-four hours of bonding and vision casting with your leaders. But when you commit to it, you’ll soon realize every minute invested into them—personally and spiritually—is worth it.

Expectations of a Leaders’ Retreat

A retreat with your team can serve various purposes, but my preference is that it offers more than a fun girls’ night out. Prayerfully ask, How is the Lord guiding me to use this time wisely? Once you’ve set goals, express to your leaders why you’re gathering and what they can hope to experience. Don’t set limits on what God can accomplish. Consider setting weighty goals like these:

  • Prayer and fasting to promote spiritual hunger and deep communion with God (Isa. 55:13).
  • Extravagant worship by seeking God’s face through the Scriptures (Ps. 27:8).
  • Heart revival and a refreshing downpour of His Spirit (Hos. 10:12; Acts 3:1920).
  • Increased faith to believe God for the impossible (Luke 1:37, 17:56).
  • Harmony to glorify God and exalt Jesus with one voice (Rom. 15:56).
  • Sanctification and surrender to God’s kingdom plans (John 17:17; Matt. 6:910).
  • Cultivation of listening hearts and dependence upon the Holy Spirit (Hab. 2:1; Zech. 4:6).
  • Alignment of women’s ministry with the church’s authority and vision (Heb. 13:17).

Depending on the expectations crafted, you’ll reap different outcomes. Goals should also drive the retreat agenda. For inspiration, pull out your planner and start dreaming using the following suggestions.

A Retreat Planning Template

Determine if you want to add the dimension of fasting. It may be the first exposure to this spiritual discipline for your leaders. Take time to educate them on the power of fasting for repentance, spiritual renewal, discernment, and God’s special help. It is an act of humility to deny one’s self that Jesus expected to be a regular practice of His Church (Matt. 6:1618, 9:15). For those with prohibitive medical conditions, invite other forms of fasting besides refraining from food.

Another idea is to discuss a book on a topic of interest such as personal revival, leadership, Titus 2 discipleship, or prayer. One practical suggestion is to limit the use of digital devices to emergency purposes so that everyone can be fully engaged.

Friday Evening:

  • Lay the foundation for the retreat through extended worship by singing, offering praise, and thanksgiving through Word-saturated prayer. Exalt and admire the Word of God as our lovely authority. Reserve intercessory prayer for the following day. Initially, tune your hearts with the Lord’s through simple, pure worship.
  • Evaluate the current ministry status through SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) or another strategic tool. Be honest when it comes to determining the effectiveness of programs in meeting women’s needs, and take courageous steps if good activities should be laid down to embrace God’s best plan.
  • Wrap up by giving instructions for a morning devotional from an assigned Scripture passage. Lastly, assign each leader a list of female church members to pray for before the group reconvenes.

Saturday Morning:

  • Practice spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude until late morning. Gather for a time of sharing insights from God’s Word.
  • Pair up and interview each other for a community-building exercise. Have fun and be creative in this segment. Celebrate our unique giftings and personalities. Together, take joy in the good and mourn in the deep, hard things of life. Relational bonds will intensify if the pairings continue as prayer partners for a specified time period.  

Saturday Afternoon:

  • Work to achieve a consensus of vision and priorities for the upcoming ministry year. Agree upon the Scripture focus, theme, calendar of events, and goals.
  • Conclude the final session in focused prayer to carry one another’s burdens and to lift up church needs, pastors, staff and lay leadership.
  • Before returning home, end the fast with a light supper and celebration of how God provided and guided the team.

The Fruit of Investment

In reflection, I see how God used this set apart time to prepare my team of leaders to face unforeseen challenges ahead. We needed to learn not to rely on ourselves or our giftings but on the power of God to shape and produce fruit from the ministry (2 Cor. 1:9).

This process didn’t happen overnight, but instead it grew over repeated rhythms of praying together. God supplied the grace for our team to lead through staff shake-ups, moral failures among the church membership, and even through the grief of losing one of our own to cancer.  

When God called me to lay down church ministry after twelve years, I’m confident the years of investing in leaders enabled the ministry to flourish after I left. In fact, it hardly skipped a beat. Women stepped up to take on greater responsibilities in my absence (some confidently, some cautiously). During my tenure, only God knew that one of the younger leaders I poured into would one day take my place as Director of Women’s Ministry.

The Investment Is Worth It

If you’re a leader of leaders who desires to build unity, instill ownership, mature disciples, and fulfill the calling to serve and love one another for the glory of Christ (1 Peter 4:810), investing in your leaders through a retreat is one way to accomplish it. Serving them like this is costly in terms of time and planning, but the investment is worth it. When we lead like Jesus, it promises rich dividends for God’s kingdom work.

About the Author

Leslie Bennett

Leslie Bennett has led Women’s Ministry in two local churches, and serves on the Revive Our Hearts ministry team. She connects with women’s leaders around the world in the Revive Our Hearts Leader Facebook Group and as host of online training events. A teacher at heart, she is devoted to training and discipling the next generation to treasure Christ above all. Leslie and her husband Mac live in S.C. where she loves spending time with family, and admiring Lowcountry sunsets.