In Howard Schultz's book, Onward, the Starbucks CEO candidly shares about his 2008 return to day-to-day operations of the coffee giant. His focus was stabilizing the company he founded and returning it to its core values.

An early turning point was a retreat with key leaders. His goal was to "organize an off-site retreat to flush us out of our familiar space and help us freely consider how we had lost our way, and then embark upon fresh thinking." Schultz continues, "we needed to rediscover who we were and imagine who we could be."

He reluctantly agreed to let a consulting firm run the retreat, but upon entering the retreat location, he was pleasantly surprised when he found:

  • A casual, fun atmosphere that piqued curiosity
  • The Beatles music playing loudly
  • Bright Beatles album covers and posters covering the room
  • Note cards with questions like What does it mean to reinvent an icon? and What did John, Paul, George, and Ringo teach us about the art of reinvention?

Schultz summarizes, "The retreat did more than just spark creative thinking. It also took us to a new level of decisiveness." For Starbucks, this refocus on decisiveness quickly led to hard but necessary decisions like store closings and deep cost-cutting measures for the first time in company history. But decisiveness also led them quickly to new innovations, an impressive turnaround even amidst the global economic crisis, and back to more sustainable growth.

Your church doesn't have the resources of Starbucks (although you might consider providing good coffee!), but even on a limited budget you can pull off a retreat that can breathe new life into a tired staff or help you discover a whole new way of doing ministry.

Why Go Out of the Box?

It's time for an out-of-the-box retreat when …

  • You're stuck in a rut and need fresh thinking. As a marketing director at Christianity Today, I try to take our marketing staff away from the office at least a couple times a year to break from the ordinary. Recently that meant going to a creative design firm to study what keeps their minds fresh and good ideas flowing for their clients. In past years, it's meant holding a creative scavenger hunt around town, going to museums, and interacting face-to-face with our audience.
  • You're wrestling with a complicated problem or issue. When your church has a challenge, say finances aren't where they need to be, staffing needs restructured, or you're planning for your next ministry season, a retreat affords you the time to go in-depth, maybe including things like historical analysis and feedback, research, creative brainstorming, prayer and meditation, laying out a comprehensive plan, action steps, and follow-up. You can't do all that in a one-hour meeting!
  • You want to build team camaraderie or morale. I've found that our retreats always leave us coming away with a renewed focus, energy, and appreciation for our important work. Days and weeks later our team members were still excitedly sharing what they took from our time together. And newer staff members felt plugged in faster because they were able to contribute and get to know their teammates away from the office.
  • You need to complete a project, but can't in your normal environment. I've been frustrated when we've needed progress on something like a new product launch or engagement with a new marketing tactic, but in each weekly meeting we barely move the barometer forward. With my staff, I've tried to "get away" and retreat together when I realize we're not moving fast enough to get a job done by a deadline, or I feel an issue is worthy of extended, uninterrupted time.
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