Being a retreat speaker can be an enjoyable time but can also be a challenging time. The difference maker for which outcome occurs is largely dependent on the host for the speaker. Over the years, as both a speaker and also as a host, I’ve seen some excellent treatment of speakers and also some situations that could use a lot of improvement. This will be a 2 part series of blogs in which I hope to highlight some ways to invite and host a guest speaker in which he would feel very well taken care of throughout the whole process. In this first part of the series, I will focus on how to invite a guest speaker to a retreat.
To begin with, I want to suggest that a goal or standard be set at the beginning as you consider inviting and hosting a guest speaker at a retreat. That goal is for the speaker to be well taken care of so that he would want to return in the future without any hesitation. But this in large part is dependent on how well he is cared for during the whole process. Part of this consideration may involve the financial amount that is available from the budget. But this is not the only aspect for success in making the stay a memorable one. Some smaller churches, for example, just cannot carry out some of the upcoming suggestions due to financial limitations. In these cases, it is highly suggested that more sentimental and meaningful gifts be given such as cards, encouragement notes, and pictures. It really goes back to the old adage “that it’s the thought that counts.”
The first step to inviting a speaker has to do with the church and the planning committee that has been given the responsibility to invite him. Many considerations should be factored in inviting the speaker. Some of these factors include the kind of speaker, the age of the speaker, the expertise of the speaker in terms of certain topics, and the possible relationship of the speaker to the church or group. All of these factors along with the theme of the retreat should be prayerfully considered and discussed in determining whom to invite. This step is very important in matching the group with the appropriate speaker for the retreat.
Once this is all settled, there must be sufficient time given in inviting a speaker to the retreat. The most advanced notice that I have ever received was one year. But my suggestion would be around 6 months notice. This advanced notice will allow a number of things to occur including enough time to prepare the messages, to advertise to the church, to plan and budget, and to even meet up with the speaker in advance in order to discuss the needs of the group that he is speaking for. This last suggestion is highly recommended in order to aid the speaker in knowing a potentially foreign audience and in terms of knowing what the needs are for the group. This will also allow the leadership to discuss and know some of the specific logistical needs of the speaker as well.
A big question regarding inviting the speaker is in regards to whether to give the speaker a specific topic to speak on or to allow him to choose a topic that he is strong in or may have even previously prepared. The answer to this question really depends on a few aspects. Is there a topic that is essential to be addressed during the time of the retreat? Maybe the congregation is divided and needs to hear a series of messages on unity. In this case, then ask the speaker to speak specifically on unity. Another consideration is that if the speaker has a specialty topic or favorite topic that he is known for, then this should be the request made to the speaker for the retreat. The bottom line is that the later that you ask the speaker to come to the retreat, then the more limited you are in asking him to speak on your preferred topic. There have been times when I was asked only a month or two in advance and the hosts would say that I could speak on anything that I wanted to speak on!
The next important consideration to have is to make it as easy and enjoyable as possible in getting to the retreat site. The courteous thing to do is to begin by sending the speaker a gas card to help out with the travel expenses especially if the location of the retreat is distant. This can prove very helpful especially during these tough economic times. This should be followed up with clear directions to the location of the retreat as well as the starting time for both the retreat and the first speaking session. This information will be essential in helping the speaker to plan out his travel itinerary as well as the necessary time for the drive. The more information given for the retreat site, whether it be at a campsite or a hotel, the better he can prepare for a good stay.
When the speaker arrives, it will be courteous to greet and meet him so that he can know where to park and where his room will be located. It is probably best to give the speaker his own room for comfort and preparation purposes. A care package should also be provided with water, snacks, and other encouraging items that will make the stay both enjoyable and comfortable. The next blog will focus on more of the details of how to host the speaker well. But hopefully, you can work on these first steps of inviting a speaker well to your next retreat.
This is Part One of a two part series. Part Two of this series concentrates on how to host the speaker well at a retreat.