Drop-In Breakout Session Tips for Christian Women’s Retreats

Breakout sessions or small group activities deepen meaning and connection at a women’s retreat.

While we’ve scheduled our breakout sessions in several ways, one of our most popular schedules includes allowing everyone to choose their session ‘on the fly’.

Rather than signing up ahead of time, ladies simply head to whichever session they want. 

We’ve had varying experiences with planning our breakout sessions on a drop-in basis. There are definitely pros and cons which I’ll address below and let you know how we handle any issues that come our way.

Related Post: Christian Women’s Retreat Breakout Session Resources

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Pros of Drop-in Breakout Sessions:

Easier to plan the retreat as a whole

The planning team won’t have to take requests for sessions and then try to schedule everyone in the exact sessions they want. 

Allows flexibility in sessions offered

We’ve had last minute cancellations from breakout session leaders before and have had to cancel sessions. When ladies have pre-registered for specific sessions, this makes it difficult to schedule new sessions for them and causes last minute stress.

Attendees are happier

Getting to choose exactly which session they want to attend with the people they want to attend with makes everyone’s experience more positive.

On the other hand, not everything is hunky dory when planning breakout sessions with drop-ins. Difficulties may arise, and it’s important to know what to expect and how to handle any issues.

Cons of Drop-in Breakout Sessions:

Hard to handle numbers of people in individual sessions

Without directly scheduling the ladies to a particular session, it’s possible some sessions may have one or two attending and others may be overcrowded

Difficulty planning the right amount of supplies

For breakout sessions that include crafts or any other materials such as our pottery sessions, Crochet for Christ session, Horseshoe Nail Crosses, or any of our other breakout session resources, it’s important to be able to purchase the correct amount of materials needed. Drop-in breakout sessions make that difficult.

Sometimes chaotic transitions between sessions

When the ladies haven’t chosen sessions ahead of time, the transition time isn’t structured. This effects sessions starting and ending on time which can throw an agenda off.

Other Ways to Schedule Breakout Sessions:

After trying the drop-in session format, we changed things up in several ways for our next retreats. We have used poster board sized Post-It notes on a wall, one for each session.

We included the name and then a numbered list of 12 (or however many would fit). After our welcome sessions, we gave the ladies time to look over each session and sign-up under the one(s) they wanted.  When the numbers were filled, the session was full.

That worked well although we did have a few who added extra numbers under our limit and wrote their names by the added number. 🙂 

We just figured they must really want that session and let it slide. Later, we adjusted our ‘limit’ so that a few extras could be manually added.

We’ve also had ladies fill out a form ahead of the retreat and choose the sessions they wanted. This way worked very well for planning supplies, but it often turned into a scheduling nightmare when a session leader cancelled or when the ladies changed their minds.

No matter what methods we try, we tend to migrate back to the drop-in method. As long as you’re flexible and communicate well with your leaders about how the drop-in method works, it’s truly the best method.

Related Post: Sample Retreat Agendas

How to Handle the Difficulties of Drop-In Breakout Sessions:

I want to address ways you can handle any difficulties that arise when you use a drop-in breakout session format. It’s important to me to let you know how these issues can be handled because I believe this is one of the best ways to offer breakout sessions at a retreat. 

1. Communicate with your leaders what to expect and how you’d like them to handle any situation that comes their way.

It’s possible one session will have no one show up and another session may have many.

Here’s the letter I wrote to our leaders addressing the sessions (coming soon – within this next week because I’m on summer vacation from teaching school – woohoo!). 

2. If you over buy supplies, just save materials for future retreats.

I promise that you’ll find a way to use them and they won’t be wasted!

3. To deal with chaotic transition times, make sure you schedule enough time for those transitions.

Originally, we scheduled 10 minutes between sessions but later found that 15 minute transition times work best. This not only allows the ladies to choose and get to their next session but gives them time to use the restroom, get a drink, etc.

4. Be flexible.

No matter what happens, remember to go with the flow. The most important feeling you want the ladies at your retreat to walk away with is joy, love, peace, and comfort through Christ Jesus. Keeping a positive and supportive atmosphere in all areas provides exactly the right message.

Drop-in breakout sessions can successfully be implemented using these ideas. I’d love for you to share your ideas with us as well. Please comment below or send us an email!

If you liked this post, you might like these others about retreats and retreat breakout sessions:

101 Retreat Theme Ideas for Christian Women

Faithful Frames and Prayer Plaques

Beautifully Broken Things – Kintsugi – Japanese Art of Repairing Pottery

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