Whether you are a volunteer teaching a Bible class for kids or teens, a tutor in a faith-based tutoring program, or a leader, your ministry can benefit from a listening tour. One of the lessons I have learned from talking with ministries all over the world is that most of us are afraid to hear what we can do to make our ministry more effective. We believe any feedback is critical, personal and/or judgmental. And our ministries are suffering because of it.
Granted, many of us are poor at communicating feedback in ways that don’t crush the spirit in the process. Yet if our ministries – personal or corporate – are to reach their godly potential for reaching others for God, we have to find a way to gather and incorporate feedback.
Unfortunately, even those brave souls who occasionally ask or send out surveys rarely get helpful information. We have been subtly trained from very young ages to tell people what they want to hear – not the truth. Anyone who dares to share legitimate feedback has probably been labeled divisive, a complainer or several other negative terms. So rather than giving honest feedback when asked, most will respond “fine”…which helps no one in the end.
So how can you obtain and process feedback so it helps your ministry grow and reach its godly potential? Here are some tips I have learned along the way:
- Avoid written surveys. Written surveys are necessary at times, but they don’t allow you to notice body language that there is more that needs to be shared or allow for follow up questions. Whenever possible ask for feedback face to face. People who generate written surveys always reassure people they are anonymous, but people don’t really believe it and will often hide their true feedback.
- Ask for feedback one on one or in very small groups. People often feel threatened to speak up in groups – especially if they believe they are the only one that feels that way or will be honest enough to speak about it. It is also less intimidating if they are afraid the person receiving the feedback may say something harsh in response to what they want to share.
- Reassure the people giving feedback you want them to be totally honest…over and over until they believe you. If someone gives you wishy-washy feedback, remind them you want them to be totally honest with you – even if they think you won’t like what you hear. Remember people are conditioned to only say positive things and these ultimately don’t help you as much as the less positive feedback. They need constant reassurance you are different from others and want the total truth.
- Be prepared to ask specific open-ended questions. Are you concerned about a particular aspect of your ministry? Admit you are struggling with what is most effective and ask what suggestions they have based on what you are currently doing in that area. This will help many people relax and then you can ask them what other things they have noticed you might do to make your ministry more effective.
- Ask for any great ideas they have for your ministry. Sometimes the most surprising people will have the best, most effective, creative ideas you have ever heard. Asking everyone for ideas will help you capture them. You may not be able to incorporate every great idea, but keep a notebook or file somewhere for the future.
- Reassure people you see yourselves as a team helping those to whom you minister to reach their godly potential and eventually spend eternity in Heaven. Let them know you hope they don’t wait for you to ask for feedback, but will come to you whenever they have a great idea for tweaking or adding to your ministry. An effective listening tour takes a lot of time. You need to speak to every student, parent, volunteer and leader your ministry touches. You don’t have the time to do that constantly. You want to create a climate that encourages people to bring any feedback or ideas they have to you immediately and not wait for your next listening tour.
Done well, this first listening tour can take weeks or even months. During the tour find ways to let people know they have been heard and you are really considering and at times implementing their feedback. Seeing their feedback makes a positive difference in your ministry will encourage the teamwork dynamic you want in your ministry. Later listening tours can be less formal and happen in ways that are quicker if and only if this first one is done well.
Although a bit scary at first, if you can conduct an effective listening tour, you will be amazed at the positive impact it can have on your ministry. As an added plus, you will probably experience personal spiritual growth as you work on humility, controlling your tongue, loving others and more! Try it and let me know what happens.