“Feedback is the breakfast of champions!” —Ken Blanchard, author and leadership expert
Though most of us agree with Ken Blanchard and do, in fact, gather feedback on so many of the things that we do, few of us gather (or know how to gather) the feedback about our small groups that would lead to transformative group experiences. So, let us ask you some questions:
- Do you know if your small groups are actually doing what you want them to do?
- Do you know if your small groups are living out the vision and values you and your team have worked so hard to craft?
- Do you know if your small groups are actually spurring on worship, discipleship, evangelism, and connection?
- Do you know how effectively your leaders are leading their groups?
Do you really know?
The honest answer for most of us is, sadly, “no.” We wish we did, but we don’t. Of course, we check in with our leaders and ask them how things are going, but we really don’t know with certainty what is happening in our groups, and whether or not it aligns with our ministry goals and values. Many of the methods we use rely too heavily on leader self-reporting or the leader’s perspective of group life and too little on the perspective of group members, the very people we’re trying to impact. Often we gather information from group leaders and try to deduce altruisms and extrapolate insights about real small-group experiences that may or may not be accurate.
In a commentary in Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership, Ed Stetzer argues that good research leads to better choices and playfully reminisces about some of his own misadventures: “The lesson to me: Sometimes a snippet from good research gets pulled out of context, then mangled, garbled, and spewed all over. And once a choice morsel of misinformation gets out, it multiplies faster than dandelions in the spring.” Gaining good insight demands more effort than what we are currently giving.
Gaining insights into how your groups are doing and taking steps to regularly gather feedback that you can use to change course, however, is easier than many of us think. Here, we’ll share several ways your groups can engage regular assessment, and then a key way that you can assess your entire small-group ministry.
Building a Rhythm of Feedback in Small Groups
Here are four easy ways to generate feedback on the effectiveness of what’s happening in each of your small groups. We suggest you do these on regular intervals, such as every six to eight meetings.
Highs and lows. Go around the room and ask everyone to share one thing they believe the group is doing well, and one thing they believe could be better. You’ll quickly hear what’s making your group work and what’s getting in the way. You’ll learn what strengths to build on and what you might focus on to help your group grow more effective.
Step back and watch. At one meeting, ask one member of the group to step out of direct engagement with the group, and instead simply observe. Then, at the end of the meeting, ask that person to share three things they see the group doing well (in support of the group’s purpose) and three things that could be improved. Then, engage a discussion with the group on how you could build on those strengths and what could be done to improve.
Not-so-secret shopper. Ask leaders to attend each other’s meetings, and serve as an observer of the group. Just as in the “step back and watch” practice, ask that observer to share strengths and weaknesses, and then decide, as a group, how to respond to that feedback.