Every pastor wants it. But no pastor gets enough of it. And, no, this is not a discussion about time or money. What could a pastor could use more of to improve his ministry, increase his impact, change more lives, and vastly intensify his ministry’s effectiveness?
It’s called feedback. Usually, the only “feedback” that most pastors get is when the sound guy turned up the mike volume too high, or when he forgot that it was Mother’s Day (and later heard about it from the moms). What pastors crave is real, honest, genuine, feedback from their congregation. Leadership, especially pastoral leadership, can quickly turn into a lonely and solitary experience without the productive interaction of pastor and parishioner.
A Foundational Principle
When talking about feedback, we’ve got to make sure we are aware of the fine line between approval and ministry faithfulness. All Christians ultimately live for the audience of One—God Himself. The pastor’s desire for faithfulness is not for the purpose of pandering to his hearer’s appetites (2 Tim 4:3), or cowering in the fear of man (Proverbs 29:25).
Rather, gaining feedback is for maximizing his ministry within his context. Feedback is for evaluating current effectiveness and readjusting to shortcomings that he may not be aware of. It is about pastoral integrity and ministry faithfulness.
The 10 Ways
1. Listen to your church leadership. The senior pastor is not the only one who will be listening to feedback. Your leadership team will hear feedback from people that you may not hear from. Talk frequently with the leadership, and gain the privilege of the feedback that they are hearing.
2. Interact with your family. A pastor’s family is huge asset in ministry usefulness. Your children and your wife will gain feedback from their associations, their classes, and their friends. Find out what they are hearing. At the same time be aware of and sensitive to the pressures that your family is experiencing as a result of their status as the “pastor’s wife” or “pastor’s kid.”
3. Spend ‘casual time’ with church attendees. Any time spent in casual interaction with your church members is valuable. People tend to open up about things when they are out of the familiar church or preaching context. Seek people out. Invite them to your home for dinner. Plan picnics, ball games, and retreats to forge relationships and gain feedback.
4. Use a new member survey and an exiting member survey.
Surveys in general are a powerful feedback tool. Think about the feedback potential of new members and exiting members. When a person joins your church, ask them questions like this:
“What are you seeking from this church?”
“How can we best meet your spiritual needs?”
“What are some of your gifts that you can use in our church?”
Chances are, the potential member has been attending for some and has initial impressions that may surface when you ask penetrating questions like this. When a person is leaving your church (assuming it’s on good terms, of course), conduct an informal survey. Ask questions like these:
“Please suggest a way that our church can improve?”
“What were some of the ways that our church particularly helped you?”
“What were some of the ways in which our church could have improved its ministry to you?”
5. Ask for sermon topics. A simple and straightforward way to ask for feedback is to just ask. If “hey, what do you think of my preaching?” is a bit too forward, go about it in another way. Ask your people for suggestions on preaching topics. When your people suggest series or topics, it gives you a sense of their needs. The best way to address people’s needs is through systematic exposition of the Bible. However when your people suggest series on “worldliness,” “lust,” “heaven,” or “end times,” it gives you profitable feedback that suggests how you can construct your preaching or other ministries. If you’re not asking for topics on preaching suggestions, perhaps you can ask people to write down some of their most perplexing spiritual questions.
6. Create a core group of lay advisors. Select several people in the church who can be your “ears” in the congregation. Meet with them regularly to determine the health of the church, understand any rumors that may be floating around, and in general gain valuable feedback.
7. Ask for new program suggestions or ministry emphases. As a variation on a “suggest a topic” theme in number five above, you may also want to poll the congregation on how the church can improve or expand its ministry. This can be done effectively in an email (LINK). If you find that a lot of the suggestions focus on “better nursery ministry” or “youth pastor’s preaching needs some help,” you have an idea of where the ministry could use extra attention.
8. Poll the church volunteers. Church volunteers are an excellent feedback resource. They are involved in the ministry and see how it works, day to day. They are close to the other people in the church, talking with them, learning from them, and building relationships. What’s more, it’s perfectly natural to gain feedback from them. In the context of a volunteer meeting, an email survey, or some other form, you can ask questions such as:
“What could the church staff do to improve your ministry?”
“What do you find are the greatest needs of the people with whom you work?”
9. Suggest a new ministry, a change, or an opportunity and ask for input. A church is a body of believers, each of which is involved in the ministry. Thus, it is perfectly for the pastor to suggest a direction, and gain input from church members. This is an easy way to gain feedback and generate discussion. For example, perhaps your church is considering a new building, or starting a college ministry. Ask the people about it. How will it affect them? What will it require of them? One way of determining the direction for your church, is simply asking them.
10. Interact Online. A lot of discussion is going on via social media. Pastors can instantly become part of an ongoing discussion and form of fellowship that is also an important source of feedback. Some Pastors even put up Facebook discussions such as, “What kind of activity would the teens absolutely go crazy about?” A light, humorous, yet insightful discussion will be sure to ensue.
In the final analysis, feedback is really important, but sometimes it’s hard to get. Be constantly learning, constantly inquiring, and always growing in your ministry awareness. Be open to change, and remember feedback isn’t always positive, so be prepared for the tough feedback, too.