How to Plan a Conference/Retreat by Kris Swiatocho
Holding a conference, retreat, or other event can be one of the most fun and rewarding time in your single adult ministry. However, in order to guarantee success there must be some planning. Your goals, the size of your ministry, and your event’s location will affect what you do and what happens as a result. We’ve prepared this guide to help you through the process of planning your next event.
Because there is no way we can possibly address every situation in this article, if you are planning a conference/event with and you need some additional help, please call 919.434.3611 or email Kris@TheSinglesNetwork.org.
Get Your Priorities Straight
Before you get started, it’s beneficial to think about why you’re planning this event. There are some great reasons to host an event—and some wrong reasons to host an event.
Reasons you should have a conference/event:
Reasons you should not have a conference/event:
Plan for Success
Once you’ve determined that you’re doing this for the right reasons, it’s time to get started. Here are some helpful ideas to help you plan for success.
Define Your Purpose
Pray and ask God to help you clarify the purpose of your event.
Get Some Experience
Consider being a co-lead or co-sponsor for an existing event so you can get experience prior to planning your own.
Network with Others
Call people who have led a conference or event, go online, read books and articles. The idea is: gather as much information you can so you can make good decisions about your event.
It’s great to involve other churches/ministries in your event. Whether you want help planning and leading or you’re including them as a part of your target audience, spreading the word to other Christian groups is always a good idea.
Identify Your Goals
Establish a mission as statement and write out your goals for your event. Be prepared to evaluate your progress along the way to see how well you’re reaching your goals.
Identify Your Audience
Pick a life stage (or age range) that you believe God wants you to focus on. Spend your time and energy figuring out how to reach that particular group of people.
Name Your Event
Name your event with an understanding of your purpose and goals.
Establish a Budget
If this is your first conference, you may want to keep it small (100 people or less). And realize that with 100 people, a local band, some donated food, advertisement, donated door prizes, and a speaker, you could easily spend $2000-$3000. If you can’t get food donated, providing lunch for 100 people is likely to cost around $600-$750.
If you have an annual budget for all your ministry’s operating expenses, you’ll need to decide as early as possible what to set aside for your conference.
Some single adult ministries have a separate budget (or can even ask for a separate budget) for their conferences. To help figure out know much to ask for, establish the basics of your event (like your mission, your target audience, and so on); going through that exercise will help define your budget needs.
Ask what other churches have spent on conferences. Ask them where they spend the most money. If they could do it over again, where would they have cut costs? Some churches with huge budgets are satisfied with only 100 attendees while others can put on a conference for 500 people on less than $1000 with lots of donations and some creative thinking.
Let’s say you put on an event for 100 people. This event is a Saturday-only conference. Let’s take a look at what you might expect to spend.
$250: Breakfast of danishes, coffee, and paper products
$0 - $2000: Speaker (Cost can vary due to the speaker’s experience, popularity, and availability. Well known speakers can cost up to $10,000.) You might decide to use someone from your church or someone who would take a love offering.
$0 - $1000: Band (Most churches use house-bands)
$300: Materials, registration, nametags
$100 - $300: Decorations
$100 - $2000: Advertising (Costs can vary depending on whether you use TV and radio, social media, or just flyers and word of mouth.)
Free: Facility can be free if it’s held in a church or other donated space.
Free: Door prizes can be free if they are donated.
A few other tips and caveats:
Obtain Pastoral/Church Support
This means more than just a nod of enthusiasm. You want tangible support such as:
For every 100 attendees, you’ll need at least 10 team members to help you, so plan accordingly. We’ll say more about choosing your team wisely in just a moment. For now, suffice it to say that the people you surround yourself with can make or break your event.
Create a Timetable
The more time you have to plan an event, the better. In most cases, you’ll need to start at least six to nine months in advance, as many speakers, bands, and facilities book up six or more months in advance.
Put together a timetable of what you need to accomplish each month. Then write out a week by week timetable of what you need to get done and when. Remember that some things can be done weeks ahead of time (like getting door prizes). The design of your advertisements and, as was just mentioned, the booking of speakers/bands also can be done ahead of time.
Next, put together a team and begin meeting on a regular basis. In the beginning, you may only need to meet monthly and only with certain parts of your team. (Email can be used to keep the rest of the team informed.)
Once you’ve decided on a date for your event, send out a “Save the Date” email/postcard/facebook/twitter notice to your database of potential attendees.
Develop a Leadership Team
The saying goes, “You’re only as good as your people.” When you consider the teamwork involved in pulling off your event, it’s easy to understand why the team you choose is so important. Here are some tips to help you assemble the best possible team.
Pastoral Support is Key
Stay in touch with your pastor throughout the planning process. Occasionally email updates explaining what you are doing and sharing specific prayer requests. Ask your pastor to talk about the event to the church to help promote it. On the day of the event, encourage your senior pastor to visit. Ask him to open in prayer event to show his involvement and support. You might even think of involving married folks to help in areas such a food, greeting, prayer, etc.
Organize Your Event
Decide on a Date
People often ask when they should hold a conference or event. The answer depends on whether your goal is “outreach” or “inreach.”
When considering a two-day or weekend event, remember that folks will arrive late on a Friday night, may have traveled along distance and be tired. As for when to wrap things up on Sunday, remember that people may have to drive a good distance to get home. If your event ends on Saturday afternoon, plan an event on Saturday night for people who want to continue meeting with each other. For example, you could have a get-together at a restaurant, attend a movie, or host a game night.
Secure a Location
When you’re ready to secure a location for your event, here are some key issues to keep in mind.
If your event is going to be held at your church, your biggest expenses will be food, marketing, speaker(s), and music (band). Of course without great food, great marketing, knowledgeable speaker(s) and awesome music, overall attendance and involvement
If you’re planning your event for a location other than your church, your biggest expense will be securing the venue. Getting away to a new and exciting venue is great for building relationships, providing more intense training, and creating opportunities for trying new things. Keep in mind that additional planning, excellent organization, and more responsibility will be required.
Whether you meet on- or off-site, here are some tips and helpful ideas to help your location be the best it can be.
Define—and Stick to—Your Budget
People often ask, “Should I charge a fee for my event?” You should always charge for your event. Why? Because it creates a sense of value for event attendees. And it reinforces to people that investing in their growth in Christ is worthwhile. Remember, you can always offer scholarships and discounts to those who need additional help.
Provide discounts for those who register early and for senior adults, students, and children. Keep in mind that if the discount isn’t attractive enough, it won’t be motivating enough to get people to register early.
Decide ahead of time where you can save money. For example, using your churches praise band, using local speakers, finding someone within the church who can do your marketing materials, having the church provide a meal vs. buying food are all great ways to save money.
Registration and Orientation
Did you know that you will increase your registration by as much as 80% or more just by offering online registration? If your marketing plan doesn’t include an online presence with the ability for event attendees to register online, you should definitely consider adding that capability.
You will need to work out a system on how to count registrations online and by mail, organize them for the day of (this can be done by last name including who has paid and who hasn’t), whether you need to ask for the entire amount prior to the day or have them register and pay the day of. Note: If your church does not have a way to do online registration, you may consider use EventBrite or other online tool.
Registration on the Day of the Event
Set up your registration area in an easy-to-find area. It should be out front, not inside the area of the event. Assign a point-person who will be available at all times during your event to handle late registrations, questions, first aid, and other unexpected issues that crop up.
Here are some additional tips:
Upon arrival at the event, each attendee should receive a welcome packet. You need to decide what should be included in this packet and how it should be packaged/presented. Here are some ideas to consider:
Name tags need to be done ahead of time. You can pre-print with the logo for the conference. If you have time, printing each attendees name adds an extra bonus. Print the first name very large, with their last name small. You may add their church/city name. (In the event you offer pre-registered break out sessions, you can also put that information on the nametag.)
Keep in mind that peel-and-stick name tags only work for one day, so you will need to give them out each day of your event. For a multi-day event, plastic holders are best. At the end of your event, ask for the holders back to be used for another event. Have each name tag attached to a packet to help save time.
Greeters should be friendly, have a great smile, and be informative. Greeters will help in everything from holding doors open to helping with registration to assisting speakers/band. Tell your greeters to:
Market Your Event
Remember that overall look of all marketing materials needs to be consistent. Your logo, signage, web page including facebook, brochures, T-shirts, and decorations must be graphically attractive and consistent.
This is such a critical area that often gets forgotten. Marketing is neglected because of lack of skill, lack of resources, lack of finances, or all of the above. It’s true that the number one way to get people to a conference is by inviting them on-by-one. However, marketing to them in multiple ways has been proven to be effective as well as establishing the overall feel of the event.
Your logo must be clean and easy to read. No more than two colors for cost effectiveness when printing. Stay away from logos with photos in them, logos that are too long or tall, or that use dated graphics or fonts. You must also consider your audience. A logo too edgy will not appeal to an older group and vice versa.
When putting your event on the web, consider the design, accessibility of the links, ease of use, and graphical appeal. If you are trying to reach an audience under 40, then your website needs to reflect that. If your links don't work, there is missing information, there aren’t any pictures, attendance will suffer.
As stated earlier, registration will increase by as much as 80% or more when you offer online registration. Make sure your website will allow people to register quickly and easily.
That said, get your website up as soon as you can—even if you don’t have all the information yet.
And don’t forget about email. Early on, send out a save-the-date ad for your event. And start to develop a database of email addresses to promote the event. Having a database is a great way to follow-up your event, promote other events and invite people to church.
Your brochure needs to include the event logo and a picture on the front of who the target audience is. The content needs to be simple and to the point. Point to the website for more information. Other items to include:
· An opening paragraph with the intent of the event
· Details on where, when, who is the sponsor, the schedule, list of speakers/band (and perhaps their bios), cost, discounts, contact information.
· Photographs, which are great because they give the audience an idea of what to expect.
· A tear-off registration form they can mail in; however, make sure you can also take registrations online. The registration needs to include their email address printed clearly, how many children and ages (if you are offering child-care), address, phone and church name. You may also obtain information on whether they are staff or in lay leadership in a church for networking purposes.
Bulletin Inserts, Flyers & Posters
Another great way to get the word out is to provide inserts for your church’s bulletin and flyers for its hallways. You may also provide these for other churches to help promote your event. Keep the minimal amount of information so that it doesn’t get too busy. Be sure to have your website/contact information large.
It’s a good idea to mail out a save-the-date postcard with instructions to go to the website for details. Then later, a reminder postcard. You can also email a save-the-date jpg of the front side of your postcard. This jpg could be clickable back to your website.
Some events print T-shirts for the leadership team and other volunteers. You may also think about selling them to help raise additional support or donations for a worthy cause. Keep in mind that you want the T-shirts to be attractive enough to be worn outside of
Outdoor signage to promote an upcoming event, directional signs on the day of the event, and signs for the bathrooms are critical. One of the best ways to advertise is by putting a banner/sign out front weeks prior to the event.
Use bright colors, high-contrast, and keep it simple; something like:
Singles Conference, August 10th, www.First Church.org
Having a banner at your event helps to tie everything together. To save cost you may opt to blow up your logo on a board and paint the design. You may also use PowerPoint to project your image on a screen.
Advertising Your Event
Ads in local papers, online websites (such as TheSinglesNetwork.org), flyers/brochures to tack up at coffee houses, word of mouth, announcements at other churches, and sharing your event with similar associations are all great ways to promote your event. Also, don’t forget about social media. Be creative with fun video’s, interviews of speakers, the band, etc. that can be shared.
You want to equip your team and church with what they need to help get the word out. If this is your first event, you might want to keep your costs down by only doing word of mouth advertising. Be aware that placing ads can get very expensive. Make sure you budget for this ahead of time.
If you are not charging for your event, you can usually get a free Public Service Announcement on radio/TV. However, if you are charging you may have some limitations. Some stations have local community shows that might allow you to be a guest. Also ask local media outlets to come to your event as a way to promote community awareness and for future events. Note: Be sure to go to our website to see a free list of 50 Ways to Advertise.
The decorations for your event should be consistent with your overall theme and the look of your marketing materials. For example, if your theme includes a tropical or ocean theme, then your marketing materials and decorations should tie into that theme. Don’t forget to be creative with your theme by having extras like:
Door prizes can be anything from gift certificates to local restaurants and gift shops to books and tapes. Ask your speaker/band to donate an item. And be sure to let folks know who donated the item. You may opt to include their names in the packet of information. Remember, it’s very important to support and publicly thank our door prize donators. Go the extra mile: send a personal thank you to all donors after the event.
Piecing the Puzzle Together
All your planning and preparation is getting ready to pay off. Whether you’re holding a conference, a retreat, a workshop, or some other type of event, your event is going to be a great success! Some of the topics in this section may not apply to your particular event; feel free to take the topics that apply to you as you piece together your one-of-a-kind event.
Whether or not to have an alter call is a personal decision. Having an alter call may be something normal in your church; however, if you are working with other churches who might not have alter calls, it could be uncomfortable for them. When establishing your mission and goals, keep this in mind. You may offer an invitation and state that counselors will be standing by (all counselors should have an identifying name tag).
Alternatives to a traditional alter call are:
Because some facilities may have an audio/visual person on staff, you may opt to tap that person’s expertise. It might be a good idea to assign an assistant to that person (not only will they be a help to the primary a/v person, but they’ll receive some valuable training that you could use for future events). Here are some additional things to consider:
Don’t forget to check all sound, video, and lighting prior to the event’s start time. And remember, because of the nature of technical equipment, it’s important that you have access to backup equipment in the case of a problem.
Allow plenty of time for breaks. Remember, conferences typically attract more women then men—and women typically need longer bathroom breaks! Be sure to allow for plenty of time. You might even opt to change some of your male restrooms to female for your event.
If you decide to offer childcare, understand that some states require the care workers to be licensed. Decide the ages you’ll accept (how young/how old) and if you will charge for their care. You will need to think about keeping children occupied for the duration of the event. Meals and snacks should be provided. You may opt to have children join parents for lunch.
Remember, also, that single parent families have the most inflexible use of their time and money. Keep this in mind as you plan.
Some events should include a sign language interpreter. You may also need to arrange accommodations for individuals who are in wheel chairs or have visual impairments.
You may opt to have an emcee for your event. Good candidates to consider: your singles pastor, a single adult, a comedian, or a band leader. This person will help to keep the mood lifted and energized. They could announce door prize winners, conduct prayer, make announcements, and introduce speakers. Note: Remember the value of having icebreakers/warm up exercises. See a handout on some great ones at www.TheSinglesNetwork.org and click on the store.
Decide ahead of time if you will allow exhibits at your event and be clear about the purpose of each exhibit. For example, some companies/ministries promote or sell items that have nothing to do with single adult ministry such as insurance, gym memberships, cell phones, etc.
Are you going to charge exhibitors? If the exhibits create additional value for event attendees, it’s appropriate for exhibitors to pay for exposure. If an exhibitor is also attending the event, will you give them a discount on event registration fees?
Take into consideration that if an exhibitor brings helpers who are not planning to attend the conference, you’ll need to have enough food to accommodate them. Get a headcount in advance and decide whether you’ll charge these people for meals.
To facilitate your exhibitors, you should:
Have a first aid kit(s) available and make sure all members of your team know where they’re located. For larger events, you may opt to have a nurse on hand.
Encourage your attendees to go through their handouts later to help remember the conference/event.
-Consider a going away gift to help them remember the conference,
-Have a plan in action to follow-up with visitors/attendees
-Evaluations are critical to an event. Include one in their packet (or give out at the end).
This area is a very critical, so you should take time to really plan it out. The quality of the food you provide can make or break your event—if meals are lousy, cold, old, or dry, attendees may not remember much else about your event.
Here are some tips, advice, and “lessons learned” to help manage this important area of your event.
Icebreakers, skits, and warm-up exercises are all great ways to get your audience energized and connected. Again, be sure to stay consistent with your overall theme. Be creative and have fun.
We’ve already talked about having a prayer team as part of your event’s preparation. Here, we’re talking about the visibility and purpose of prayer at the event itself.
It’s important to keep your event focused on God. Prayer is one great way to do this. Here are some ways to incorporate prayer into your event:
Small Group Discussion
It’s always a good idea to allow for small group discussion at your event. Why? Because single adults want to talk with and meet other people. Part of why they’ve chosen to attend your event is to meet people. You can facilitate this by encouraging folks to sit with people they don’t know. You might even have a plan ahead of time that would mix up your audience for special break-out sessions. To help these sessions run smoothly, train some small group leaders to facilitate conversation and help keep the discussion
When you’re choosing a speaker or a band, make sure he/she will connect with your audience. If you hire a married speaker, it’s critical that they know how to relate to single adults. If you hire a band that is too edgy, they might not relate to your audience and
Be sure to communicate what you want and/or expect. For example, if you would like your speaker to accept questions or to stay after to sign books, be sure you ask for these things. Know ahead of time if your speaker/band charges a fee. Agree on a figure in advance. If you book a speaker/band, stand behind your verbal agreement even if you have not received a written agreement yet. Insist on paying a deposit so that both you and the speaker/band are protected.
Take care of your speaker/band. Here are some ways to make sure you accommodate them adequately.
A few words about logistics. Perform sound checks early to adjust volume. Arrange the type of mic, podium, stage props, and materials, your speaker/band needs. Be sure to ask permission from your speaker/band if you plan to record them audibly and visually.
Checklists for Before, During, and After Your Event
One Day Prior – Checklist
Tomorrow’s the big day. And you’ve got a lot of work to do before then. Here are some important things to be sure you get done today.
Morning of Your Event – Checklist
Before the first attendee walks up to the registration/check-in table, these are things you need to be sure to take care of.
During Your Event – Checklist
Throughout the event, you and your team of volunteers need to take care of these things.
After Your Event – Checklist
Before attendees begin filing out, make a point to do the following things.
Sept 2-3rd, 2021, Flat Rock, NC
For a long list of leadership resources by Kris Swiatocho and other authors, click here.
Pray for a Mate™
About Pray for a Mate™...In my 25 years of ministering to single adults, I have found one major thing common to 99.9% of them—the desire to be married or married again. From conferences to retreats, articles and interviews, the subject continuously comes up.
I hear questions like:
“Do you think I am meant to be married?”
“Is there such a thing as ‘the one’?”
“Why hasn’t God brought me the man/woman of my dreams?”
As with all of these questions, I can only send them to the one source who knows the answers and that is Jesus Christ. But saying this doesn’t always communicate to an action or a direction.
Okay, so you go to the Lord but then what? Well, they would say they have gone to the Lord but what I found was they would gripe, cry and fuss at Him. Few were serious in their purpose when it came to praying. Few were serious when it came to listening and as a result, changing.
THE CHURCH AND SINGLENESS
For the last two decades, I and many of my fellow ministers to singles have seen the decline of the church’s efforts to minister to single adults. While the singles population is now over 52 percent in the United States, with most being never-marrieds, churches are not making the effort to the reach us. The focus more than ever seems to be on the family.
But what churches don’t understand is the family starts with two single adults. If the church would spend time reaching singles, helping them in their identity in Christ, in their personal growth and developing healthy friendships, as well as by offering Bible studies and counseling for marriage, then the greater success of our future marriages and families will be.
We can’t keep hiding behind youth programs and a pro-family focus and hope healthy marriages will just happen. The church needs to help single adults meet each other in a healthy way, directing them toward godly friendships and teaching them the principles of courtship and marriage preparation. Otherwise, they will find other ways to find a spouse, often outside the church and, possibly, with someone who isn’t a believer.
Although not all single adults will get married, many due to their own fears and issues, I do believe in marriage and I believe God still brings people together. With that in mind, I have been praying for a solution to bring singles ministry back into the church.
Singles ministry in general takes a lot of work. You have to build a team of leaders, offer training, meet regularly, plan, pray, and do. Because of the work involved and due to so many pastors being fearful that members might “hook-up,” churches have stopped having a singles ministry.
Also, we are still seeing more women than men in church. As a result, most singles ministries are started by women. Unfortunately, groups led solely by women only grow other women. The team has to include men. Without this pairing of the sexes, your ministry will often fail. In addition, we are seeing a lot of singles ministries focused on social events rather than on teaching the Word of God.
Another problem comes when leaders who don’t find a team to share the responsibilities with gets burned out, resulting in a failed ministry.
So, what do we do? How do we bring a singles ministry back into the church and have it be successful? And how can we do it if we are limited in finding men to help? What about resources and support?
SOLUTION: Pray for a Mate™
While spending time in the United Kingdom doing ministry, I came upon a wonderful lady who shared with me something amazing. She had gone to her pastor and asked about doing a singles ministry at her church. Again, due to past experiences of what singles ministries could become, he said no. She then prayed and went back and asked if she could have a “prayer group for those who wanted to be married.” (Remember, 99.9 percent of all singles want to be married—maybe not this minute but eventually). She didn’t say anything about singles or ministry, but she did use two key words that most churches care about: marriage and prayer. They agreed and even offered her the space to meet.
She quickly gathered her team of friends—some married and some single—and they started meeting to pray, not sure what God would do. That small group turned into a larger one and before long they were meeting each month. From the start they only allowed women to come as they had enough men. They also created a structure that appealed mainly to serious prayer warriors.
The results were amazing. They saw lives changed, individuals found healing, some developed amazing friendships and others even got married. It’s now been over year and they are up to eighty men and eighty women. And it hit me—with a few slight changes, this could work in the U.S.
I realize not all singles would want to come to church to pray for a mate. Some might even get upset if this was the only activity their church offered singles. But if a church only has this, it’s still better than nothing. This program has the potential to lead to something. It’s certainly worth trying and making the investment. And the result? Healthier people who become healthier followers of Christ.
How to get started!
1. Go to our contact page and fill out the registration form.
3. Once we receive your registration, you will be given a password to access the other pages where you will learn how Pray for a Mate™ works including the structure and the prayer themes.
Kris Swiatocho and the Singles Network Ministry that you operate. Our singles group at my local church is flourishing and I give much credit to you.
• Leaders that Last is 6 weeks, 6 topics Curriculum:
The first 3 weeks that are inward focus towards personal development and last 3 weeks that are outward focus towards building and unifying the team.
• Leaders that Last Curriculum includes:
A trainers guide with additional questions, icebreaker ideas, small group discussion, and weekly assignments, etc. plus participants outline.
• Leaders that Last Curriculum is a:
Microsoft word document so you can alter to fit your specific group whether young adult, single adult or single parent, divorced or widowed.
Week 1: Who You Are in Christ
Week 2: Affirming Your Calling as a Leader
Week 3: Spiritual Warfare
Week 4: Mentoring/Finding others with a Similar Calling
Week 5: Building the Team
Week 6: Caring for the Team.
Week 1: Who Am I?
Description: Everything starts and ends with a great team but a team starts with a great leader. A great leader should know who they are in Christ first in order to lead others. This leader also should have a personal, growing relationship with Christ. This lesson will focus on your identity, your personal growth in your faith, and your walk with the Lord.
Week 2: Who Ya Going to Call?
Description: Learning and affirming your calling to be a leader. Most maturing Christians are serving the Lord but often in the wrong area, this lesson will help you focus on the right area God is calling you into.
Week 3: The Devil Made Me Do It!
Description: This lesson focuses on how to recognize the enemy’s attacks on you, your team, and your ministry, and what to do when it does happen.
Week 4: Making Copies!
Description: This lesson focuses on the importance of recognizing potential leaders by starting with those who are voluntold versus volunteers.
Week 5: There’s No “I” in Team
Description: Everything falls and rises on leadership. Without a great team that is unified in the path to reach the goals God has put in place, leadership will fail. This lesson will focus on how to build a team that builds the ministry.
Week 6: Are You a Care Bear?
Description: This lesson focuses on how to keep our team, our leaders, and, ultimately, our ministry going and growing.
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--638 Spartanburg Hwy Ste 70-113
Hendersonville, NC 28792 —919.434.3611 Kris@TheSinglesNetwork.org
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