Kids and teens may have been “born yesterday”, but they are very savvy about answering opinion type questions posed by adults. You see, they’ve learned over the years that the average adult wants the answers they hope to receive – whether or not they are actually accurate. It’s not that students are necessarily making a conscious decision to lie, but rather are attempting to please the adults posing the question. They don’t want the inevitable pushback or criticism that can result from honest feedback.
Unfortunately, a lot of unwise decisions are made because adults are basing them off of this inaccurate feedback. To make your ministry as effective as it can be, you need an accurate assessment of what is working and what isn’t. You can sometimes get more honest feedback from adults, but even then many Christians have been conditioned that “nice” lies are more loving than helpful criticism given in love. Because they don’t attend many of your classes and events, they also have limited experience with your lessons and activities and may not get much feedback from their children either.
Before requesting feedback from students or parents, you have to show an eagerness to accept constructive criticism – even when you strongly disagree with it. Listening well, avoiding over reactions to what is said or written and explaining what will happen with the feedback, all help build that trust. It can also help to constantly reassure everyone that you prefer honesty over hearing what they think you want to hear.
Providing multiple opportunities for feedback in various formats can also increase the likelihood that at least some of it will provide the constructive criticism you need. Here are some things to try.
- Online anonymous surveys. Make sure you clearly state you cannot track their computers or IP addresses and the survey is truly anonymous.
- Suggestion box. Old school, but can work. Make sure it is locked and you check it regularly.
- Polls. The idea of choices being provided frees some people of worry. Make them short and linked to in the ways in which you communicate, like texting.
- Interviews. These take more time, but allow you to pick up on visual clues someone is holding back important information. They also allow you to ask follow up questions.
- Rankings. Another great way to provide choices, but still see the strength of various preferences or opinions.
- Town halls. These can turn into free-for-alls if not well managed. They can be good for problem solving and generating new ideas though.
- Reflection activities. These are especially helpful after service projects and field trips. Assessing what went well and what should be changed in the future as a group feels safer than being asked for individual feedback on the same experiences.
- Asking the question, “If you could change one thing about (Bible class, ministry, etc.), what would it be?” This is worded more positively and feels like it requires an answer. You can also try, “What is one thing that could be done better (one weakness, etc.) in our (Bible classes, service projects, ministry events, etc.)
One important thing to remember, you absolutely must give responses to feedback – especially if you ultimately decide to reject it. What changes you will make, when they will occur and why certain changes won’t be made – at least for now – need to be shared with all stakeholders. This is especially important when more than one person mentions the same thing. Ignoring feedback and refusing to respond to it will prevent you from receiving crucial feedback in the future. It’s scary to hear what people think, but if you want the most effective ministry possible, you need to seek and listen to feedback.