When Is a Staff Retreat like Vacation Bible School?

The staff retreat. When is the best time to pull your employees away from the office? Where is a good place to hold the event? What topics should you address? How do you make it both fun and informative? The answers are right under your nose.  Take a close look at the planning and execution of Vacation Bible School and you’ll find that your Children’s Ministry staff are retreat masters. Mirror every element of a great VBS and you’ll pull off a successful employee retreat.


When There’s a Theme

When cardboard boulders line your church hallways or construction paper fish hang from the ceiling of your Fellowship Hall, it’s a sure sign that VBS is in the making. It’s also a clue to one of the most important building blocks of a winning event: the theme.

Choosing a theme does more for a retreat than determining decorations. It provides the framework for the retreat’s message. For instance, VBS curriculum “Cave Quest” grounds kids in “the rock-solid foundation of God’s love”. “Deep Sea Discovery” is designed for kids to “dive deep into God’s presence.”


When There Are Activities

You can’t expect children to sit still for hours listening to someone talk. The same is true for adults. Like VBS, retreats need to include some time for fun, even if that time is simply a break for snacks. Yes, you want to set a time limit to keep the agenda moving, but sometimes it’s during an unstructured break that people come up with ideas while talking to others.

Don’t completely rule out crayons and childish toys when planning activities for adults. We’re told that as children, all of us were creative, but that as we age, most of us decide we’ve lost the ability.  Although seemingly silly, sometimes coloring and doodling or time in a playground unleashes restrained creativity, which becomes evident in a great brainstorming session later in the day.


When we are Sensitive

Kids from all ages attend VBS and although the theme may be the same across the board, the lessons and activities are tailored to specific ages and skills. It’s important to be sensitive to the different needs of adults, too.

Taking a hike in a local forest sounds like a great idea … unless you happen to have bad knees. Handing out a typed agenda works for some, but for those who rely on a screen, paper is not only passé, it’s wasteful. Ending the retreat with a group dinner sounds like fun to some, but presents a dilemma with babysitters or school pickups to others. When planning a retreat, think about things like physical abilities and communication styles all employees before choosing activities and timeframes.


When Choosing a Location

Of course VBS primarily takes place within the walls of the church, but sometimes it’s possible to include an outing as part of the week’s activities. Sometimes a field trip is the one thing about VBS a child remembers into adulthood because it was different and special.

If possible, plan at least part of your staff retreat, if not all of it, to take place somewhere other than in a church meeting room. Scope out what might be available at a nearby hotel, restaurant or library. Think of unlikely places to hold a retreat – you may be surprised at the accommodations available at a zoo, a museum or a state park. As a non-profit, meeting space fees may be reduced or one of your members might have a connection that would allow you free access.

Speaking of which, take a look at members who manage or own a business. Many corporate offices include nice meeting spaces. Industry headquarters sometimes even house auditoriums and cafeterias. It might simply take a phone call to get permission to use a member’s facility.


You don’t necessarily want your employees to glue macaroni to a cigar box during a staff retreat (or do you?), but there is a lot to learn from those who plan and execute Vacation Bible Schools that will make for a meaningful and memorable staff retreat. Ask your Children’s Ministry Director to go out for coffee today!


Judy Bumgarner is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee.