Last spring in the wake of the pandemic, strings of canceled events reminded all of us how quickly plans can change. Women’s ministry leaders around the country had to cancel their retreats when suddenly meeting in-person became a national no-no.

Maybe you were one of them.

Even with the hope that communities and churches will open up soon, it’s no surprise that ministry leaders are nervous about scheduling retreats or planning new events for the spring and summer.

We get it. Planning an event this year feels risky. But take heart! While we don’t know what the future holds, we do know that women in your ministry will be eager to connect—especially now.

For this reason, we want to encourage you to not give up on your retreat plans. Our number one prayer for your ministry, and churches as a whole, is to have the opportunity to meet in groups throughout the rest of the year. But also…

…we want you to be smart about having a Plan B. Specifically we want you to have a plan for how to host your retreat online if needed. Here’s how to start planning for that now…

Rule #1 of Planning an Online Women’s Retreat: Be Flexible!

Hosting a women’s retreat online will look different than gathering people together face-to-face, and that’s okay!

It’s tempting to get frustrated when your in-person program has to undergo changes. But don’t get too focused on what you’re doing. Instead, concentrate on why you’re doing it. Look at what each piece of your program is trying to accomplish (ex. get women to laugh and connect, share an important truth from the Word, provide a word of encouragement, etc.), and be flexible!

For example, maybe a group game designed to get women to laugh is too difficult to pull off online. Instead, share a link to a funny video clip you like and have women leave comments about their favorite characters or lines. Get creative and don’t worry if each activity isn’t exactly like the program planned. Women will still grow and have fun!

Tips for Online Tools and Time Frames

Trying to set up online broadcasting tools last minute is not fun. So trust us when we say that you want to set up, plan, and practice leading a virtual session long before your event goes online.

Two common tools for hosting online events that have become hugely popular during the pandemic are Zoom and Facebook. Both offer the ability to live stream video, and both allow participants to share comments, post questions, and tag/message others by name. Hosts can use a computer or smartphone to broadcast, and participants can log on using a smartphone or computer as well.

Another thing to plan in advance is your online retreat’s modified schedule.

Often our face-to-face retreats are scheduled to be full-day or weekend events. This time frame is ideal for in-person meetings or groups…but can be overwhelming when women are connecting alone from home. For this reason, we advise you to break your online retreat into shorter sessions, perhaps split between two weekends or once weekly for a month.

Create this modified schedule now in case your event needs to utilize an online Plan B.

Creating an interactive, engaging, spiritually rich retreat…online

At Group, we load our women’s retreat programs with hands-on experiences, games, group discussion, and more! We do this because we believe that experiences and conversation are better teachers than passive listening and note-taking.

For this reason, we want to encourage you to resist the temptation to host a lecture-style online retreat and instead challenge yourself to keep your program interactive, conversational, and experiential.

Below are some ideas for how you can modify the different components commonly found in a Group retreat for an online setting. Whether you use them to adapt your Group retreat or another program, have fun and get creative!

Modifying Ice breakers and Games

These fun portions of a retreat are often used to open sessions, and will be the most difficult to incorporate into an online experience–but it can be done!

For ice breakers that utilize questions and discussion, Zoom/Facebook chat and commenting functions can help women to interact with each other by posting their responses and tagging each other. In fact, you may find that simplifying a game into a question-based ice breaker makes the most sense for your online retreat.

These getting-to-know-you openers are also an opportunity to get creative! You could share links to funny video clips to get women laughing and sharing, or have them leave notes on each other’s social media pages. They could even do a “relay” where posting/texting a message “hands off” the baton to someone else, who then leaves a message for a new person.

The goal for these openers is to get women to connect and get to know each other, so don’t be afraid to go off script and have fun!

Maximizing Your Teaching Times

The teaching portions of a retreat program are the easiest to lead online. If you’ve watched a pastor live stream a sermon, you’ve seen how this is done. But don’t stop at just talking to a camera! Group retreats often utilize props and visual aids, which are even more beneficial online. Grab some!

Also make sure that you aren’t the only one talking and teaching. Leave time for women to share and discuss in small groups or pairs! Read below for ideas to make that happen.

Leading Online Worship

If you’re musically talented, by all means–lead worship online in the same way you’d teach! But if not, worship music tracks, like those provided in a Group retreat kit, are easy to play during your live stream. Simply encourage women to sing along in their homes.

And if you’re nervous about the awkwardness of leading the singing on camera, you can always turn off your camera during this time (and/or display a decorative slide/background) to let the audio come through without distraction.

Online Small Group and Paired Discussion Ideas to Get Women Talking

Conversation is a key part of getting women to connect deeply and grow spiritually, so don’t forget to plan ahead for how you’re going to facilitate discussion online. For instance, consider grouping and/or pairing participants together prior to the event. Share these groupings ahead of time, and also during your opening session. Let women know that they’ll be discussing and sharing with each other throughout the event through texting or a video-chat application. You could provide app suggestions, or let them choose their favorites independently.

Then during the discussion portions of the retreat sessions, instruct them to connect with each other through texting or the app of their choice following the same guides as they would face to face. If you’re live streaming your event, play soft background music on your end or mute the session during the discussion to keep distractions minimized.

Modifying Hands-On Experiences and Craft/Service Projects for an Online Setting

Like games and ice breakers, hands-on experiences and projects are more difficult to facilitate online, but it can be done!

Many of the hands-on experiences in a Group retreat use participant items that are created specifically for the program. This makes it easy to gather materials ahead of time. Then you can distribute them to women before the event to use at home during the sessions.

Likewise, Group retreats often utilize common supplies that women can often find at home, which makes things easier. You’ll want to provide a list of your supplies ahead of the retreat. Remember to give women time to gather them before a session.

Some of the most powerful experiences involve small groups or pairs. In these instances, you’ll have to modify the program for a woman at home by using the ideas above in the “discussion” section, or using a journaling prompt or listening prayer as an alternative.

Remember – Your Retreat Will Be Great No Matter What

Whether your retreat is in-person or online, we’re confident that you can help women connect, grow deeper in their faith, and develop strong, lasting friendships that extend way beyond any limitation. The Spirit of God isn’t restricted by location, technology, or props, or programs. Trust him, plan well, and have your best retreat yet!

Are you planning an online retreat this year? We want to hear your ideas. Leave your comments below.

Photo by Mimi Thian.