The Importance of Feedback


By Brad Hauge

Feedback is often spoken about as a necessary evil in many circles, including mine. Necessary, because it can serve as a catalyst for positive change and growth. Evil, because it can hurt my feelings. I often say that the only people that call my office desk phone are those trying to sell me on their latest and greatest fundraising ploy or parents that are mad at me for something. I don’t like to answer my office phone.

Some of us avoid honest feedback because we pour our heart and soul into the ministry and finding out that it isn’t working like you had hoped sucks. Some of us avoid honest feedback because we know we’re coasting and realize we might be called out on our laziness. There are many reasons why those of us in ministry often hide from feedback, but most of them stem from a desire for self-preservation and comfort as opposed to making sure our ministry is making a difference in the lives of teenagers and the Kingdom.

Kids graduate and new ones arrive. Trends change. Parents rotate in and out. Contexts rarely stay the same for more than a year or two, and in order to feel confidant that your ministry is meeting the spiritual needs of your current context, feedback is crucial.

Here are four obvious, but necessary, people groups from whome you can begin to seek out honest feedback for your ministry. Whether you meet face-to-face over coffee or create ways to gather anonymous feedback, just do it.

Current Students: While it would be easy, and moderately helpful even, to simply ask a 14 year old boy, “Did you have fun at 30 Hour Famine last weekend?” it will be important to spend time gathering more intentional feedback from time to time. If you have a student leadership team make sure to create time and space for them to process the goals and values of the ministry and speak into whether or not they see them being lived into. Give kids opportunities to journal their thoughts and responses and create discussion around their responses. Remember, most people don’t do super well in brainstorming meetings, so providing time for written responses can be a goldmine for feedback from those who might not normally give it.

Former Students: Admit it, you’ve haven’t been doing as good a job staying connected with Johnny off at college as you promised him you would. So as you prepare for this year’s Famine, or mission trip, or even fall kickoff event, use that check-in call you’ve been meaning to have with your former students to assess what works and what can be let go. Ask, “Thinking back to when you were in youth group, what do you remember as really mattering when it came to your faith? What things just seemed silly or not worth your time?” Questions like that can help you both gather feedback and check in on Johnny’s current faith. Sending out emails with questions is a good idea too as written feedback can be super helpful when you want to share specific quotes with either your current students or leaders. We even once compiled dozens of quotes into a little booklet for our leaders once as a reminder for what sort of leader traits and actions had a lasting impact on the kids they walked alongside.

Parents: By far the most intimidating of the feedback avenues you need to be exploring, but super important. If you’re up on your current youth ministry Growing-Sticky-Orange-Young-Faith literature and research you know how important it is to be partnering with parents in all things ministry. Make sure to have comment cards available at parent meetings and consider setting up “office hours” at a local coffee shop and invite parents to join you. Once we created a simple Mail Chimp survey with prompts and questions related to our student ministries to send out to all the parents. The parents were able to remain anonymous in this particular survey and the feedback we received was priceless and shaped much of how we now communicate with them.

Leaders: They are there every week, the true lifeblood of your ministry. So make sure they have a voice! Meet one on one with them regularly and don’t simply ask how their small group is going, but ask specifically if, and how, it seems like the ministry matters to the kids in their small group. Use your leader meetings, your event debriefs, and intentionally conversational space to get feedback from your most active partners in your ministry.

One of the unexpected consequences of seeking out honest feedback has been a whole lot of affirmation. Truly. For every critical response we receive, we seem to get twenty that affirm. So in case you’re still feeling a little apprehensive, just know that seeking out feedback can also be one of the most affirming things you can do for your ministry! And if doesn’t turn out to be the case… well, think of all the freedom you now have to explore new ways to do ministry!