The biggest problem church groups have during retreats at Lake Williamson Christian Center is figuring out how to fit in all the fun.
Encompassing over 400 acres tucked in Carlinville, Illinois, Lake Williamson is known for its wide breadth of indoor and outdoor activity options and is the largest of Christian Retreat Network’s seven retreat centers in the East and Midwest.
“The Lake Williamson property has more amenities and recreation options than any of the properties — it’s a lot bigger,” said Ashley Haschemeyer, marketing manager at Christian Retreats Network. “It’s less humble than the other properties. It was established in 1960 by the Illinois District Assembly of God, which still owns and operates it today, but we welcome groups from all Christian denominations and even nonprofit organizations and schools.”
Roughly an hour north of St. Louis, Missouri, Lake Williamson is a popular retreat destination not only because of its ample size and remote location but also because it has vast recreational facilities, from escape rooms to mini-golf, swimming and ropes courses.
Lake Williamson offers a variety of accommodation options. Apart from some premium recreation offers (like groups reserving the beach area or doing a ropes course team-building experience), the lodging, meals and activities are all included in a per person price. Planners appreciate there are no surprises. And because the rate is bundled, they know what to charge their attendees.
“We have two styles of lodging,” said Haschemeyer. “We have 127 motel rooms with two full-size beds and a bunk bed with a private restroom. The dorm-style rooms have bunk beds with two shared bathrooms. But that’s not really why people come to Lake Williamson — they come for the great meeting spaces and for the recreation.”
Packages include three meals a day, and menus are chosen by the group planners and Lake Williamson’s service manager beforehand. Meals are buffet-style but tailored to the group’s tastes and include two entrees, a variety of sides, a salad bar and dessert.
Each of Lake Williamson’s meeting rooms comes with audiovisual equipment, and there are snack and beverage options available. Both large groups and smaller groups will find options that suit their needs, since spaces can be customized. There are numerous configurations for worship services or musical or theatrical performances.
“Our auditorium can house 1,350 to 1,400 people, and we do actually hit that number several times during the summer,” said Haschemeyer. “But we can also accommodate three or four groups of about 300 to 400 people on our campus at the same time. We can customize the spaces and put up walls and take it from a big meeting room to four separate classrooms — our motto here is flexibility.”
Built in 2019, the Brotherhood Center is the newest facility, with a capacity of 600 plus two breakout rooms and state of the art A/V equipment. The Lincoln and Grant rooms each can hold 100, and seven other rooms can be standalone or reconfigured to accommodate more people. A room above the activities center has a seating capacity of 320; Lakeside Center has a capacity of 150; and Cottonwood Cabin was built for meetings of about 60 guests.
The recreation at Lake Williamson is a big draw for groups. Outdoor activities are plentiful: sand volleyball, basketball, softball, football, soccer, archery, nine-square, Gaga ball, an obstacle course, mini-golf, disc golf, bocce ball, hiking, horseshoes, playgrounds, hayrides, bonfire sites and open fields for other games.
“We have pickleball, two escape rooms, an indoor pool and the lake, with pedal boats and canoes, a huge waterslide, a giant inflatable called the blob, an inflatable trampoline and the swimming area with the beachfront,” said Haschemeyer. “We have the Eagle Crest Adventures program, with high and low ropes courses, zip lines, axe throwing and a rock-climbing center that our guests love for team building.”
Inside, there is basketball, volleyball, wallyball, dodgeball, nine square, billiards, table tennis, board games, an adult-only fitness center, and blacklight sports including bowling and mini-golf.
Things to See and Do
Carlinville is a small town with only about 5,000 residents but is the home base for the Christian Retreat Network. The area is rural, and the 400 acres of the retreat center are surrounded by farms.
“Sometimes if we get groups from St. Louis or Chicago, they wonder if they’re in the right spot the first time they drive here,” said Haschemeyer. “They’ll be amazed when they see deer and corn fields. One advantage to being out here is that we’re a very safe and secure facility — there isn’t a bunch of traffic coming in and out, and people can roam around the property safely.”
Though people typically stay on-site for the duration of their retreat, Carlinville has a quaint downtown area with restaurants and shopping, plus a Walmart for any necessities. Nearby Springfield is a popular stop with visitors — it’s the capital of Illinois and features sports stadiums, museums like the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and other attractions.
Location: Carlinville, Illinois
Size: Over 400 acres with motel and dorm-style lodging
Capacity: 1,400 overnight guests