Churches: Creating a Positive Feedback Culture Among Staff
We throw around the terminology, “plateau” a lot, but the truth is, plateaus never exist for long in a church. Quality in production, ministry, and other areas of your church is usually traveling in one direction – forward or backward.
For a short season, your church may seem to plateau in some way, but the problem with plateauing is that after a while, things shift. Staff members leave or transition to a different role, people get burnt out and put in less effort, valuable and experience volunteers take off, etc. A plateau in quality is incredibly volatile, and in the end, things are either going to trend towards progress or regression.
I think on some level, we all understand this, and it’s for this reason that having a staff culture that encourages feedback is so important. But feedback can get negative and toxic very quick. Are staff members receiving it well? Are you delivering it the best way you can? How do you get everyone to buy into an ideal feedback culture where ideas are welcomed with the excitement to strive towards greater accomplishments and improvement? Here are some ideas:
Feedback: Getting Deep
When all the feedback comes from the top down – especially from the lead pastor – it can feel autocratic and like severe micromanagement. Let me be very, very clear here: I understand you aren’t trying to do either of those things! You just want your ministry to operate at its fullest potential, and you are offering feedback to your team members because you trust that they are capable of continuously improving their area of ministry. But this is where we run into the discrepancy between your delivery and their reception.
I’m going to get a bit philosophical here: people take action largely based on two fundamental motivators: obligation or inspiration.
Obligation vs. Inspiration
I would argue that the majority of decisions we make each day are out of obligation. Obligation is fundamentally based on some type of fear. We wake up in the morning not because we’re inspired to, but because we’re obligated to. We go to work because we’re obligated to. Etc.
To be clear, just because you’re obligated to do something doesn’t mean you’re doing it begrudgingly. Of course, you can have fun and enjoy something that we’re obligated to do. But I think we can all see the difference between obligation and inspiration when we look at the things people truly excel at.
Your incredible worship musicians didn’t get where they are out of pure obligation to do so. It’s the inspiration that drives them towards improvement. The same is true with designers: they can’t help but analyze logo and menu designs when they’re out to eat – design is always on their mind because they’re inspired to get better and grow into their art.
If you want your church production and overall quality to grow, you need to have the battle between obligation and inspiration at the forefront of your mind every time you’re giving feedback. When people feel obligated to execute a piece of feedback, they’ll do the bare-minimum necessary to check the box. When they feel inspired to do so, they’ll go the extra mile and take pride in their accomplishments. So how do you do that?
Empower Teams to Give Their Own Feedback
People are capable of controlling their own improvement, but only if they feel inspired to do so. And having the same person telling them each week what they need to do better doesn’t exactly inspire anyone to do anything. People want to feel trusted, and the best way to prove your trust is to empower them to give their own feedback. How do you do that?
Firstly, assign a leadership role in the team if there isn’t one already.
Rather than having the lead pastor giving feedback to all designers, sound engineers, musicians, greeting volunteers/staff, etc., get someone to oversee each “department” and relay feedback to the team
At meetings, have the leader praise the team for things they think went well. Ask the team what they liked as well. Then transition into asking them what they think could have gone better. Allow them to dictate their own feedback, and the leader of that team can then speak into some additional pieces if they feel they’ve been overlooked.
Don’t Nit-Pick Obvious Mistakes
Obvious, major mistakes are the low-hanging fruit at these meetings, but I would discourage you from diving into them. The reason?
When someone makes a big mistake, they’re the first to know. Rather than beginning by pointing out a mistake, trust your teams to identify their own mistakes or areas of improvement (as stated before.) Certain pieces are worth diving into and discussing more, but when it comes to glaringly obvious mistakes, trust that they have already taken ownership of it.
As a drummer and MD, I know this all-to-well. If I fire the wrong worship track out of Ableton during a worship setlist, I don’t need someone to call me out on it in the debrief meeting after service.
I did it. It was a mistake. I noticed it IMMEDIATELY. It was embarrassing. I won’t do it again.
Someone pointing it out in a meeting doesn’t make it less likely to happen again – it just makes me feel worse. Obviously, how someone receives that feedback is on them, but the point here is that the motivator to not make major mistakes is the embarrassment alone of having done it at all. If you’re going to spend time on feedback, spend it on things where the conversation will actually make a difference.
Put People at the Center – Not Criticism
Let’s all strive towards greatness, yes! Buuuuut… we’re people, and the real value in our ministries is not perfection in production; it’s the connections, community, and impact we foster.
If something in the music or lighting is distracting, or the way a pastor is wording something is confusing, let’s address it in a meeting. But explore all feedback within a realm of reason. While the mindset that everything can always be improved can be encouraging for some, it can also make people feel like they’re never going to be good enough for you or their team.
How do you balance that? Think about everything you noticed in service and what you’d like to give feedback on. Write it down on a notepad in your phone. Prioritize it from most to least important. Now, eliminate the bottom 60-80% of it. Share a couple things in the meeting after encouraging everyone on went well, and then LET IT BE. Why?
Firstly, people can only absorb so much at a time. Giving 1-2 simple, direct feedback points is far more helpful than expecting them to memorize and execute 10 on the same weekend. Secondly, you’re in this for the long haul. If something of low priority isn’t addressed this week, talk about it next week. Or a month later. You’ll get to it. And thirdly, we’re dealing with people, not software. They want to be encouraged, not micromanaged and beaten down.
About the Author
Chris Fleming is a professional musician from Minneapolis, MN who has played with artists such as TAYA, Big Daddy Weave, and Jason Gray. He is actively involved with the worship music scene and has contributed as a drummer, music director, song writer, and producer for various worship artists and churches locally and nationally. Chris is the Motion Designer at Motion Worship, helping to create motion background collections and countdowns for our subscribers.