Management: The Annual Planning Retreat

By: Tim Massengale

Pastor Stacy was quite aware that he had a problem. His problem was that his church desperately needed a new shot of excitement and enthusiasm. Oh, he wasn’t talking about his services. The atmosphere of worship and praise was excellent. No, he needed it in the hearts of his people to reach the lost. Somehow they had lost their vision for growth, winning souls, and reaching their city.

His outreach had dropped off dramatically. Only a handful now participated in Saturday visitation. His two buses ran practically empty. His Sunday School attendance had dropped by almost forty in average attendance. The revival last month, their first one in almost a year, had been a struggle. Home Bible study involvement was dead. The cause of the problem?

“An intensive building program” he replied matter of factly. “We had to stop almost everything to build our new facility. It took two full years and required all of our spare time and energy. My people only have so much free time. When you use it all on building a building, you don’t have any left over to win souls. My people were tired. Even after the building was finished, they needed something to get them going again. Something to get them excited. They were out of the “habit” of soulwinning.”

But notice we said he “had” a problem. Thankfully he solved it. How? Quite simple. He went to Big Bear Lake, rented a big cabin, and went fishing – yet not fishing for bass (although he did have a little time to do that too), but fishing for ideas!

That was five years ago. Today his church has almost doubled in average attendance. The excitement is tangible in the faces of his people as they testify of their involvement in winning souls. His
altars are seldom empty.

What did Pastor Stacy do? He rented the cabin on Big Bear Lake for a departmental planning retreat. He gathered all his department leaders together and went up on Friday evening. They spent the night and were still there late Saturday evening. What were they doing?


Over twelve hours was spent allowing the Holy Ghost to direct their discussion as to how revival could come to Popularville. And as the Lord directed their thoughts, a plan was developed. Every department was discussed. Every ministry was examined. As a group, a team, a body, they worked together, helping one another to make each ministry or department better and more effective.

You talk about excited, they got excited! It was their plan, to meet their needs, for their church, to help their department.

The excitement spread to the church. Because the new programs and outreach ministries had been well planned, they were more successful than ever before. Because more seed was being sown, a greater harvest began to be gathered. The old fire began to burn brightly. Once again they were on the road to revival.

For Pastor Stacy, the Departmental Planning Retreat is an annual event.


Although the above story is true (names have been changed), it is by no means a solitary occurrence. All over our fellowship, churches are learning the value of group planning and development to spark a fire into the hearts of church leaders. You see, Pastor Stacy knew that there were two key elements in motivating directors and maintaining their excitement. If you want your leader’s zeal to be fresh and new, your entire program must remain fresh and new. Just as our prayer life will become stagnant if it’s only dry, vain repetition – the same words, the same needs, the same everything – so, too, a department will become stagnant if it remains the same year after year.

The key to excited department leaders is (1) Innovative and creative plans each year for all departments, and (2) allowing your directors to have a major part of developing those creative plans.

1. Innovation and creativity should be encouraged when developing plans. Your annual planning retreat is an excellent time in the planning process to encourage innovation and creativity. The pastor should ask his departmental staff to develop the best activities for achieving their goals in the most productive way possible.

Innovation and creativity keep people and their plans from becoming stagnant. Therefore, when developing activities, people should be encouraged to improve on traditional methods. They should be asked to look for new and more efficient ways of performing even routine tasks. As a group you work together upon each project, building ideas and solving problems. This is the purpose of the planning retreat – not to put dates on a calendar – but to brainstorm innovative and creative plans for the coming year.

A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip, or worried to death by a frown on the right man’s brow. – Charles Brower

2. Participation is the key to developing “ownership” to the new plans of your ministries and departments. People responsible for carrying out a plan should participate in its development. By doing this, they are more knowledgeable about how it should be performed and more excited about its performance. At the annual planning retreat, the pastor should make sure the department heads are involved in developing the activities required to achieve the department’s objectives. The pastor sets the general direction, but the department leader maps out the plans and goals it will take to get there.

Participation gives people “ownership” of plans. People who are required to carry out activities without participation in their development generally lack motivation and commitment to make the plans succeed. On the other hand, people involved in developing an activity tend to take more pride in their work and carry a greater burden to see the activity become a success.

Pastor, your leaders need to say, “This is what we plan to do,” rather than, “This is what the pastor wants us to do.” There is an old saying in business that states, “Good goals are our goals, poor goals are your goals.” Whether your leader’s excitement is lukewarm or red hot will depend upon their involvement in the development process.


An annual planning retreat for all of your department heads will benefit you in six ways:

1. Excitement and Enthusiasm. When a pastor begins to share his vision and dream for the future, and how each director fits into that dream, people get excited. New plans, fresh ideas, worthwhile goals, always spark the thrill of being part of a program that carries eternal purpose. When you get excited, your people get excited with you. Let your fire spread!

2. Commitment to Involvement. As we stated above, people are much more committed to a plan when they have a hand in its development. The planning retreat allows them to voice their ideas and solutions to various situations. It makes the plans “ours” instead of “yours.” When you develop something you have a much stronger commitment to seeing it succeed. It is much easier to lead a group of people when they are behind you, pushing.

3. New Ideas and Solutions to Problems. The greatest benefit of the retreat is the new ideas which are developed. This has been called by others the “master mind” concept: You have your ideas and I have mine, but when our ideas come together, they form new ideas that neither of us would ever have thought about. This is the very essence of “brainstorming.” When many minds focus upon a problem or a need, the Spirit can direct the group to the solution. Pastors are continually amazed at the quality and quantity of ideas that such a retreat produces.

During brainstorming, don’t worry about getting too many ideas. You can always trim them down later. Also, don’t judge the worth of an idea too quickly – God loves to perform the impossible!

4. A Team Spirit. If a Pastor is not careful, he can end up with each department becoming a “kingdom within itself” – each department operating only for its own benefit rather than for the benefit of the whole. Each department director must realize that, “what I do effects you and what you do effects me.” We are members one of another. We need each other and must support one another. We are a body. Every part must be in unity with the whole. If each department is in competition with the rest for the limited resources in the church (people, dates, money, facilities, etc.), then you have a kingdom divided and such will not stand.

Dr. Jack McGorman tells an allegory of the members of a body declaring war on the stomach. The arms, legs, and head were doing all the work. The stomach was getting all the benefits. The mouth said, “This is not fair. I will not feed the stomach anymore.” What was the result? Mouth, stomach, and the whole body attended the same funeral together – theirs!

The retreat will help bind the directors together as a team. They will work together to find solutions to difficult problems, set goals and make improvements. There is a tremendous unity that grows out of such a group activity.

5. Coordination of Activities. The retreat is a time to look at the entire year and what each department wishes to achieve. The activities of each department are then placed upon the master calendar so that no department conflicts with another.

But remember, even though each director will have a calendar, and you will be placing dates for each department upon this calendar, it is extremely important that the retreat doesn’t become only a “calendarizing” session. It is easy for the retreat discussion to get “bogged down” in trying to find an exact date for every activity. For most activities, instead of setting an exact date, simply choose the month that would be best. The exact date will then be set at the monthly council as the event draws closer.

6. A Reward for a Job well done. The retreat is very much a “reward” whether the church pays for the expenses or not. It tells that director “you’re important, your department is important, your advice is desired, your ideas are needed.” This is a powerful motivator because everyone needs to feel needed.


When: The planning retreat should be held each year as an annual event. The date for next year’s retreat should be set at this year’s retreat. It is best scheduled in late fall – October or November. You are planning the following year, so this allows you to have some time of preparation before you start on January’s activities. It is also “off-season,” neither summer nor winter, so rates for cabins, lodges, or motels are less expensive.

But if this is your first retreat, don’t worry about when is the “best” time to have it. Just have one! The retreat is the first step to the entire management process. If it happens to land in May, or July, or December, don’t worry, it will not hurt it’s effectiveness. You can put your second retreat back on schedule.

Where: The retreat, to be effective, should be an out of town and overnight event. This is important. If the planning time is at the church, it’s work – interest and participation quickly die. If
overnight and out of town, it’s fun and exciting. Having been involved in both situations, we have observed the results to be twice as good. (If it is impossible to go out of town or to go overnight, do the best you can to minimize interruptions and provide a relaxed atmosphere – preferably away from the church).

But don’t go too far away – an hour or two’s drive is maximum. Any longer and you will have to leave too early the next day to get home. Most directors will plan on leaving town after work Friday and driving to the retreat location. Some planning is usually done Friday evening. Then up early for breakfast, prayer and group planning all day Saturday.

Many churches have found it extremely beneficial to spend the night Saturday night and drive back early Sunday morning in time for church. This allows a much less hurried pace and more free time.

The best place to have a retreat is in a lodge or a cabin, but motels, camps, vacation homes, or other such facility is acceptable. The important thing is to keep the atmosphere relaxed and informal. Sit everyone in one circle or around one long table. Don’t set chairs lecture style or around individual tables. This discourages discussion. Make sure everyone has good eye contact with everyone else. Provide soft drinks and light snacks.

Who: The retreat should be attended by all department heads and their spouses. Experience has shown that the spouses will sometimes provide even better ideas and input than the directors. Your director attendance will also be better if the spouse comes.

The department heads must make the retreat their utmost priority. Tell them the date of your first retreat well in advance so they can make plans to attend. If the department head cannot come Friday evening, have them drive up Saturday. If they need to take time off from work, encourage them to do so. If someone just absolutely cannot make it, have an assistant come in their place. It is critical that every department possible be represented. If they miss the retreat, they miss much of the vision and motivation that this meeting provides. And Pastor, bring your wife too!


A sample retreat agenda is provided at the end of this chapter. The topics of discussion are for sample purposes only. You will need to meet with each director and develop the topics for their department together. But it is important that you try to follow the same basic format, at least for your first time.

The amount of time given to each department director depends upon the number of topics to be discussed. Limit the number of discussion topics within a department. It is impossible to discuss twenty different subjects as a group in an hour. Help the director to choose topics of greatest priority only. A list of sample topics is provided at the end of this chapter.

The most important topic should be first on his list, next important second, and so on. The reason for this is obvious. As you begin to run out of time, you will tend to hurry over the last topic or two, especially if you find yourself “hung-up” on a subject. If you have allotted the director one half hour, three or four topics is all you can cover. In one hour, five or six is maximum.

It is critical that you place time limits on each department. It is extremely easy to begin discussing a problem and lose track of time. And if you don’t stick to your schedule, the last department will get “bumped” and that’s unfair. To cut a department out or cut their time is to say “your department’s not important.” They are important, or they should not be a department.

Encourage everyone to get involved in the discussion. Those who do not contribute have little dedication to seeing the plans succeed. When you only observe, it’s your plan. When you’re involved, it’s our plan. A director who is pulling the oars has little time to rock the boat.


In discussing your agenda topics, always use a variety of discussion methods. These methods are designed to encourage everyone to participate. Lecture by the pastor or department head should never be used. The more your directors contribute to the discussion, the greater their excitement, interest, and quality of ideas. The following are given as suggestions:

1. Round Robin. Round Robin means you go right around the circle and everyone must contribute something. Call each person by name. Don’t allow them to “pass.” This starts the ball rolling for that department and gets everyone involved. Once all have spoken, they will feel more free to contribute later on.

Always try to use round robin discussion method for the first topic of each department. The first topic should be the most important. Using this technique will get every ones attention and focus on that need.

But a word of caution: this method consumes a lot of time. If your group is large, you may wish to cut it off before everyone has contributed.

2. Open Discussion. Open discussion is simply throwing the subject open for comments. Anyone may contribute or offer suggestions. Always call on someone to “start if off” by saying “Brother Jones, what do you think about that?” Although this is the easiest method to use, be careful not to over use it. It’s too easy for your “quiet people” to simply observe. Call specifically on the quiet ones if you see this happening.

3. Buzz Groups. Buzz Groups also work well. Divide everyone into small groups of three to five people. Give each Buzz Group a topic to discuss. After 15-20 minutes, the groups come back together and give their ideas. This is very effective. The smaller the groups, the more everyone participates. A brief “open discussion” is held after each group reports.

4. Three Great Ideas. The three great ideas method is also useful in some cases. Here you ask everyone to be silent for three to five minutes and write down the three best ideas that they can think of on a particular subject. Then you go quickly around the circle and everyone reads their ideas. Little discussion is given. This works well when you want many different ideas to later choose from. For example: “How can we raise money for the youth trip?”

There are many other methods. Use them! It is important to keep the discussion lively and interesting.

Never, never, never try to have a retreat without a well planned agenda. Put some real effort into it. Provide plenty of breaks. After ninety minutes, the brain shifts into neutral. Set meal times, free time, time for prayer and devotion. Make your retreat a spiritual and emotional renewal. They should go home charged up, excited, and thrilled to be a part of the work of God.


The Planning Retreat should be planned carefully. Make your retreat reservation as far in advance as possible; a full year is best. Inform your directors of this date and get a commitment from all to attend. A month before the retreat, schedule a private session with each director. Review and evaluate their department, the past year’s accomplishments, and any problems there might be. Go over their job description and update it. Add new “training and development” assignments. Establish new goals for them to reach. Talk about their department and get their ideas for improvement. Your discussion should focus on two areas:

1. What problems are you having with your department?
2. What new things could you add to make your department better?

A key purpose of the retreat is to encourage every department to improve each year. It is not good enough for the director to just maintain the status quo. Since the church is growing and improving, the department should also. As we add improvements and solve problems within each department, it will allow the director to more effectively fulfill their purpose and goals. The best ideas and most pressing problems should be made topics for discussion. The pastor must use wisdom as to what should or should not be discussed in a group setting like this.

You should then purchase for each director a hard-backed binder for use at the retreat. This will become their “Departmental Binder.” In this binder, you should put the following:

1. Retreat agenda.
2. Organizational flow-chart.
3. Copy of their updated job description.
4. Sample and blank one-year plan forms.
5. Departmental monthly report forms.
6. Most important: a loose-leaf “one-page-per-month” calendar for date setting.
7. Also some lined note paper.
8. Colored tab-dividers to go between each of these.

Give a binder to each department head at the retreat. Each additional year, you need only provide a new calendar, updated job description, and retreat agenda.


The following guide lines are provided to help your retreat to be more successful. After several years of two retreats each month in different churches, the author had found a few suggestions that
greatly help. You should go over these points with your retreat group before you begin.

– All departments are of equal importance – regardless of length of time spent on the department or in what order they are discussed on the agenda.

– There is no such thing as a dumb idea – no one should be afraid to offer their suggestion. Some of the most “crazy” ideas have sparked the “best” ideas because they broke us out of our mental rut.

– Everyone must participate in discussion – your ideas and input is essential.

– Please stay on the subject – with limited time and many topics, we cannot afford to wander. It is possible to sit until we are numb on one end and dumb on the other.

– Please take detailed notes – today the ideas and plans are fresh in your mind. Six weeks from now you will remember little of what was discussed. Take notes especially on your department.

– Please raise you hand to speak – otherwise the only ones who talk are those who talk the loudest. We will call on you in the order that hands are raised.

– There should be no private conversations during group discussion – it’s hard to talk to a group and share your ideas when everyone it talking to their neighbor.

– Please wait until breaks to get up (unless an emergency) – it’s hard to talk to a moving target. Sister “Smith” will refill coffee cups and get sodas if needed. Also, don’t wander too far off during

– Please stay until the entire retreat is over – after your department is covered, please do not leave unless it is an absolute emergency. The remaining departments need your ideas too.

– The pastor has the ultimate veto of any idea or subject – all suggestions are simply that – suggestions. The pastor must have final say of what we will or will not do. Some topics or problems
are best discussed one-on-one.


Planning is difficult to do in short bursts alone. It takes time. The “tyranny of the urgent” is the enemy of planning. Just about the time you sit down to figure out where to go next, someone announces a newly discovered brush fire which demands immediate attention. So you abandon what was most important for what was most urgent.

Good planning requires extended periods of quality time, the right people, a comfortable environment, and adequate preparation. Good planning is the result of good planning.

You will find that your Departmental Planning Retreat provides just that sort of environment. It is an excellent time to encourage the kind of innovation and creativity that keeps people and their plans from becoming stagnant. It is a time to build the team spirit among your directors, so that, like an army, they can move forward on a unified front. When one department advances too far ahead of the rest, it creates an imbalance and a “hole” develops in the front line. Likewise, when one department stops moving, this, too, causes a weakness. The retreat brings everyone together, all working for a common goal. The result is more souls being added into the Kingdom of God.

Good, better, best
Never let it rest
Until the good, it be better
and the better, it be best!
– Author Unknown


1988 Annual Planning Retreat
United Pentecostal Church of Ellisville

Friday Evening – October 15

7:00 – 7:30 Prayer & Pastors Vision

7:30 – 8:30 General Topita – Pastor Keller
* Guidelines of the retreat
* Departmental 1-year plan – due date
* Monthly Planning Council – Set Dates
* Leadership Training Topics for 1989
* Monthly Reports
* Weekly Tag-in Time
* 1989 Retreat Date
* Annual Department Review Weeks
* Interdepartmental Job Descriptions – Due Date
* Family Night – Monday
* Pastor’s Vacation

8:30 – 8:40 Break

8:40 – 9:30 Home Bible Study – Bro. Jackson
* How to get more people involved in HBS?
* How can we obtain more HBS’s?
* How can we effectively promote HBS in the church?
– Annual Seminar & Emphasis Month Ideas
– H.B.S. Monthly Promotion Ideas
* Dates
– Annual Training Seminar – outside speaker
– In-house H.B.S. Teacher Training-three

Saturday – October 16

8:00 – 8:30 Breakfast (If you wish)
8:30 – 9:00 Prayer & Pastor’s Devotion

9:00 – 9:50 Outreach Department – Bro. Stetler
* Spiral Ministry Promotion
– Dates for Monthly & Quarterly & 1989
– How to get Spiral Board Information
* How can we motivate & recognize workers?
* Saturday Door Knocking – Vineyard Concept?
– Door Knocking Training
– Date each month
* 2 – Membership Involvement evaluations

9:50 – 10:00 Break

10:00 – 10:30 Visitor Follow-up – Sis. Reid
* How to make visitors feel more welcome?
* Problems getting visitor information
* Visitor Follow-up Training seminar – Date

10:30 -11:00 Prayer & Missions – Sis. Rush
* How can we encourage pre-service prayer more?
* Monthly Irayer Promotion – ideas for promoting prayer
* Expanding our Prayer Library
* Dates
– Jan. week of prayer
– Prayer Revival
– Missions Conference

11:00- 11:10 Break

11:10- 12:00 New Convert Care – Sis. Stockholm
* How can we involve converts in YOUR department
* What each department does with the Altar Card?
* How can we reach our backsliders?
* Dates
– New Convert Socials Quarterly – Ideas & Dates
– First Night Counseling Training

12:00 – 12:10 Break

12:10 – 1:00 Ladies Auxiliary – Sis. Bingham
* Ladies Outings – where?
* Fund Raising Ideas
* Family & Marriage seminar – topics Ideas
* Ideas for improving our “Fall Festival”
* Dates:
– Ladies Meetings – Quarterly
– Picnics – Labor Day & Memorial Day
– Annual Marriage & Family Week
– Mother/Daughter Banquet
– Church Christmas Dinner

1:00 – 1:10 Break

1:10 – 1:40 Music Department – Bro. Robinson
* Ideas for enlarging our choir
* Choir practice problems – sound, baby-sitter, faithfulness
* Annual Song Fest – date & promoting
* Encouraging Musical Talent in the Church – an annual recital?
* Christmas Caroling – homes of past visitors

1:40 – 2:30 Lunch

2:30 – 3:20 Sunday School – Bro. Schofield
* Sunday School Growth – Class Goals
* Special Promotional Program Ideas & Dates
– Easter Sunday
– Pentecost Sunday
– Fall Thrust Sunday
– Christmas Promotion
* S.S. Aim for Excellence – Teacher Motivation
* Starting a Sunday Morning Teacher’s Prayer Meeting
* “Parentreach” concept for Bus Ministry
* Sunday School Dates:
– Summer Children’s Musical
– Teacher Training Seminar – Date
– Teacher Appreciation Banquet – Dec. ’88

3:20 – 3:30 Break

3:30 – 4:20 Men’s Ministries – Bro. Dean
* Men’s Fellowship
– Annual Men’s Fishing Trip
– Father/Son Picnic ideas & date
– Quarterly Men’s Prayer Breakfasts – ideas to improve
– Is a Boy Scouts ministry possible?
* Maintenance
– Quarterly Men’s Work Days
– Projects
* Expanded Parking Lot
* Parking Lot Drains
* Redesign Annex Interior
* Other Needed Projects/Repairs?
* Ushers & Hostesses
– Emergency Procedures for fire, sickness, etc.
– Usher/Hostess Training seminar – Date
– New visitor packet

4:20 – 4:30 Break

4:30 – 5:20 Youth Department – Bro. Gilly
* Starting monthly Youth Council/Committee Meetings
* Youth Trip Ideas & Date
* Fundraising Ideas for Youth
* Involving Youth in Outreach
* Dates
– Youth Convention
– Youth Week
– Fall Harvest Party
– Youth Camps
– Christmas Social ’88
– Others?

5:20 – 5:30 Break

5:30 – 6:30 Public Relations Departments – Sis Iverson
* Purpose & Use of this department
* Fliers & Monthly Bulletin Deadlines
* Monthly Bulletin – ideas to improve
* New “cost-effective” advertising ideas
* New church directory

6:30 – 7:30 Dinner
7:30- 11:00 Free Time

Sunday Morning – October 17

8:00 a.m. – Depart for Ellisville – Don’t be late for church!