My Comments on Your Comments

Every week, during our worship gatherings, we ask you to fill out the Communication Cards and give us feedback, ask questions, mark decisions, request more information, or write a prayer request. I've explained elsewhere why this is such an important practice for our church and why we need everyone to fill out a card every week. (You can read about it here.) But I've never commented on the comments. And only recently have I started listing them (or most of them) in my Mid-Week Memo.

Yesterday, one of our staff members came in to my office  and shared his concern that by asking for comments and feedback feels like we're offering a consumer product and that we're feeding a consumer mentality. (If you've not thought about the danger of turning church into a consumer product, just ponder it for a few moments, shudder, then come back to this post.) He explained that he was at a restaurant where he received a card that basically said, "We want your feedback and we will change to make you happy." (If only we would ask God for feedback with that mindset!)

I told him I have felt uneasy about this too, and we talked about how we can counteract it. We agreed that comments and feedback are a good thing and that making it easier to give it has it's advantages. So here are a few thoughts about commenting and giving feedback, without denigrating church in your mind to a consumer product that's all about you:

  • Tell us how you were impacted spiritually by the service or an element in the service. I recently heard a story from a worship leader who took a tour of a Greek Orthodox Church. He commented on how wonderful it must be to worship while looking at the beautiful icons. The priest stopped the tour and said, "No, we don't look at them. We see through them." There's lots going on in our services that can catch your eye or your ear, and it's okay to like that guitar solo, a funny story in the message or singing your new favorite song. But don't make that your ultimate focus. It's okay to comment on it, but more than anything we want you to "see through" all of that to God--to worship and adore Christ; to be moved to make a decision or confess a sin; to commit to some change in your life. Try not to focus so much on the beautiful "icon" that you fail to see through it to God.  
  • Tell us when something we're doing is getting in the way of worship. But please remember that our congregation is diverse and what you hate is someone else's joy. Take the loudness issue...please. Okay, bad joke. But the truth is we've had weekends where one person tells us it was way too loud and someone else tells us it was way too low and lacking in energy. We listen, but it is absolutely impossible to make everyone happy. We continue to do everything we can to eliminate harsh sounds, but our music requires a certain amount of loudness or it wilts. And loudness is only one issue. Add to that communion bread, number of songs we sing, the length of the've seen the comments so you can add to the list.
  • Be specific, especially in your critique. Don't exaggerate or we won't listen (just being honest). For example, if one song was too loud, don't say, "It was so loud today I had to leave." Say, "That one song killed my ears." If you add, "Is it only me?," that kind of humility can go a long way.
  • You know how easy it is to write things in an email in anger that you regret later? Well it's the same way with the cards. Like email, don't write anything you'll regret later or would never say face-to-face. I've had some people apologize for hasty, harsh remarks on cards, and I've been very appreciative of that. If you've been around Five Oaks long enough you've seen me apologize for harsh remarks I've made while preaching or in conversations, so I completely understand.
  • Be encouraging. What's the ratio of encouragement versus critique you need to hear? If you want to have the right to make critical comments when something goes wrong (and be heard), you need to be in the habit of making positive comments along the way.
  • Don't avoid a good fight. The caricature of the typical Minnesotan is someone who avoids conflict at all costs. So if there's something that's bothering them at their church, they think it's easier to just be nice, leave and not stir things up, rather than have a good and fair fight. Conflict is inevitable in families. So don't be that person. Don't live up to the caricature. Speak up...nicely (that part of the caricature is okay). Give us feedback on the card or later in an email or after the service. You'll be healthier and we'll all be better for it. 

Ultimately this post isn't about Communication Card etiquette. It's about gathering each week at God's invitation, honoring him in everything and growing bigger hearts for God. This was just one more opportunity for me to pastor you and help you grow as a disciple. Don't make worship into a consumer product. See through rather than looking at. Communicate in a godly way. And, by all means, keep communicating.