“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.
Take a test. Many surveys exist to help gauge the health and effectiveness of a group. Here are a few you might try:
After collecting the data from your group members, identify, as a group, two or three things you can do to strengthen your group, and then commit to putting them in to practice. You could easily practice one insight per month for the next three months.
Reviewing Your Entire Ministry
Getting feedback for individual small groups is one thing, but what about assessing an entire ministry? That’s a tougher task, but one that you can tackle. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to assess your entire ministry:
Engage both group leaders and members. Research has shown that team and group leaders often appraise the effectiveness of their groups much differently (higher!) than the members of those teams and groups. So, be sure you are hearing from group members, not just leaders.
Rely on more than one method. While surveys are great, they often don’t provide the context or the nuance that is really helpful. And while interviews and focus groups are great, they don’t necessarily represent your entire ministry. Try to engage both survey and interview or focus group data.
Ask good questions. This should go without saying, but be sure you are asking about what really matters to you and your ministry, rather than what someone else thinks you should ask about. And frame your questions in a way that allows people to give you the feedback you are really seeking.
Resist confirmation bias. Groups often suffer from a natural tendency to reinforce and favor preexisting values and beliefs rather than hold them up to real scrutiny. When that happens, groupthink occurs, and that’s not a good thing. Thus, in order to truly assess a ministry, it’s important to take off the protective goggles and find ways to solicit feedback from all angles. This certainly includes current group ember experiences but should also include those not yet connected to groups, and those who have stepped out of groups for whatever reason. Garnering as many perspectives as possible frees you from cognitive or systemic bias and allows you to get a realistic perspective on your ministry.
So, are you ready to get some feedback on your ministry? If so, we’ve got a great opportunity for you. Our Cultivating Thriving Small Groups study will enable you to compare what you say you want your ministry to be about to what is actually happening in your small groups. In fact, we follow our own advice, gathering multiple kinds of data from small group pastors, leaders, and members, and asking tough questions that will help you learn much about your small group ministry. We’d love to invite you to assess your small group ministry through your participation. Just maybe you’ll get the feedback you need to take your small group ministry to the next level.