Marriage is a journey with valleys and mountain top experiences. Many couples today struggle with navigating their relationship through life experiences as is seen in the sky-rocketing divorce rate inside and outside the church. There are different approaches to help couples improve their relationship and enable a better survivor rate. One way many churches attempt to equip couples is through a marriage enrichment retreat. If you want to plan a successful marriage retreat then consider some of the following suggestions.
Date the calendar – Check the church calendar, school calendar, and community calendar. You will never find a date that is perfect but you can choose a date that will enable the greatest number of couples to participate. Here’s a big hint on a date not to pick . . . Don’t schedule a marriage retreat the opening weekend of deer season.
Determine the location – Some churches host a marriage retreat on site at their church and even provide childcare. Other churches choose to have a retreat off-site at a hotel or retreat center and allow couples to find their own childcare. A camp setting with bunk beds is not an ideal retreat center for a marriage enrichment event. Choose a location that is within a one hour drive for couples and make sure you do an on-site visit before scheduling.
Decide on a speaker – Bringing in a speaker like Gary Smalley is not possible for most churches. Contact the Family Ministry Team at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention for potential speakers. Most churches are able to find someone within the state to lead a quality marriage enrichment experience. Advanced planning (at least three months) will provide a greater variety of speaker options.
Dollars and budgets – A church doesn’t have to spend a lot of money to have a great marriage enrichment experience. It is beneficial to budget some money for such an event and then charge couples for the difference. It is best to have couples pay up front before the event so that you don’t have 50 couples who have signed up and 5 couples who have paid and actually show up leaving the planners over budget with too many leftovers.
Delegate responsibility – Pastors have plenty of hats to wear without the responsibility of planning another event. It’s important to find at least one organized couple or a team who can plan the details of the event and keep the pastor in the loop through the process.
Divulge details – Active participation in a marriage retreat experience will not happen unless there is adequate promotion through announcements, bulletins, flyers, and letters. A personal in-person invitation from the pastor or leaders will go a long way to enlist couples to be involved in the marriage weekend.
Direction of the weekend – Decide how many sessions or how long you would like the weekend to last. Some churches do an event for one evening only and others do an event that includes Friday evening and Saturday morning. Be creative and flexible and consider additional formats to appeal to the schedules of participants. It is better to have couples to finish the weekend wishing the experience had been longer than to leave exhausted wishing it had been shorter.
Discourse and time – Some of the most common topics presented in marriage retreat settings are communication, conflict, intimacy and romance, goals, and personality types. Decide on topics that are relevant to your couples. Ask about the topics normally addressed by your scheduled speaker. Schedule sessions for about an hour with ample interaction time between husband and wife. Make sure that you schedule adequate breaks.
Decorate the space – Most guys struggle with creating a romantic ambiance for a marriage enrichment experience. Discover someone in your church who has a gift for decorating and enlist them to decorate the room where the event will be held. This can normally be done inexpensively and will add a special touch to the experience that will at least be remembered by all the wives who participate.
Door prizes and desserts – Consider giving away books, restaurant gift cards, movie gift cards and other items as a way to generate excitement and anticipation. Provide some sort of snacks, desserts, or drinks for couples throughout the weekend.
Develop a marriage enrichment plan – Evaluate the weekend and learn from it so that you will be able to offer additional enrichment experiences. Consider using a marriage retreat as a catalyst for additional marriage enrichment experiences in your church. Some churches follow up a marriage retreat with a marriage topical study in Sunday school or discipleship training. Pastors can also consider preaching a series leading up to or following a marriage retreat.
Don’ts – Don’t embarrass couples. Don’t ask couples to share anything that would make them uncomfortable. Don’t offer a time for couples to ask questions in a group (some individuals may ask a question that is an intentional or unintentional jab at their spouse). Don’t keep couples longer than the schedule stipulates. Don’t pair someone up with someone who is not their spouse.
Do – Do contact Ben Phillips with the Church Health Team at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention for help in planning your marriage enrichment experience.
Ben met the love of his life on a blind date and has been married to her for 21 years. He leads several marriage enrichment experiences for churches every year and serves with the Church Health Team of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. Ben can be reached at 501.376.4791 ext. 5193 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.