How to Lead an Epic Church Staff Retreat

Posted by Aaron Buer on July 15, 2021

I’m a huge proponent of off-site retreats.

An overnight retreat is even better.

I believe incredible things can happen relationally and strategically with your team when you take time to connect and think in creative ways.

Maybe pulling off a staff retreat feels like a nightmare to you.

It doesn’t have to be.

You only need four ingredients: location, fun, stories, and strategery. (That last one might not be a real word but roll with me.)

Let’s break down what each of these four elements might look like for your next church staff retreat.


There’s a huge difference between holding a meeting in a conference room and a living room.

A comfortable environment changes the game and creates space for a different kind of conversation.

My ideal location for a staff retreat is a cottage on a lake.

I’m always asking, who in my church has a cottage they are willing to share?

The right environment can be a gamechanger in creating the conversations you want to have on a staff retreat.


There is incredible value in getting away with your team and having fun together.

Laughing together breaks down walls and builds trust.

My favorite way to have fun together is cooking.

One of the most memorable staff retreats I was a part of involved “build your own pizza night.”

Everyone brought one or two of their favorite pizza toppings, and we used Naan bread as the crust.

It was so fun…and delicious.

There’s something about having fun and eating together that builds a sense of team.  

Other ways we’ve pursued fun together…

  • Golf scramble
  • Go-karts
  • Mini-golf
  • Hiking 
  • Boating

If possible, include doing something fun together into your church staff retreat, and you’ll be well on your way to building great memories.


Something happens when you understand a person’s story.

You begin to empathize and see why they do the things they do.

Sharing stories is pure magic on a staff retreat.

If you get away with your team and do nothing besides sharing part of your life stories, it would be worth the investment. 

A simple way to pull this off is to ask each person on your team to share a 5-10 minute “turning point” in their life. I’m telling you, this exercise will connect and grow your team in powerful ways.

Another version of story sharing is to ask each person to share a pivotal moment from their childhood, their teenage years, and their adult life.

We did this with our church staff, scheduling three separate hour-long sessions during an overnight retreat.

The first session was for childhood, the second for the teenage years, and the third for adult life.

That retreat brought our team together.

It was like a story gauntlet, but the experience bonded our team.  

A few tips for leading your team in sharing their stories:  

  • Some people are comfortable with being put on the spot. Other people will feel significant anxiety. Set your people up to win by giving them advance notice.
  • The first story shared will set the tone for the entire experience. Set the example of what kind of story you are looking for, or choose someone you trust to go first.  
  • Be prepared to ask good open-ended questions because some people will need a little help opening up.


A staff retreat is an ideal time to have a strategic conversation.

A comfortable environment without the time pressures of a typical workday can pave the way for an open and honest conversation.

In my opinion, the most fruitful conversation is usually a “4 Helpful Lists” conversation.

I’ve described “4 Helpful Lists” many times so this may sound familiar.

The fours lists are:

  1. What’s right?
  2. What’s wrong?
  3. What’s missing?
  4. What’s confusing?

Start with what’s going right and celebrate the good that is happening in your church.

Make a long list.

Then move on to the other three questions all at the same time.

Let your team identify what needs attention.

This conversation often helps the team pinpoint what needs focus in the coming season.

There are a bazillion strategic conversations that might be helpful for your team:  Planning upcoming sermon series, identifying or clarifying your organizational values, putting together a growth plan…but in the absence of something pressing, I always find the “4 Helpful Lists” to be a beneficial strategic conversation.

Wrap Up

I challenge you to schedule a church staff retreat.

Even if it’s just a three-hour off-site session, these experiences bring teams together and help create a deeper sense of unity and trust.

Great teams are built on trust.

Topics: Advice

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