In the ensuing discussion, an anonymous poster made what should have been a blindingly obvious suggestion - why not give people a means of responding directly - like the evaluation forms you see at many professional development and training events?
The following snips from the conversation set the rest of the stage - but I wanted to give the emerging subject a bit more profile.
Hmmm... I think this is where pastoral visiting comes into the picture. When I'm doing parish visits I will try to get feedback from my parishioners on my preaching. There are always surprises as to which sermon seemed to connect with this person or that person. At the same time, there is the question of discerning which gifts one has as a priest.
I don't understand why preachers don't seek out evaluations of their sermons. Trainers and those involved in adult education would never deliver a session without getting feedback through an evaluation form. Why does a preacher have to read tea leaves, eavesdrop at coffee hour or rely on anecdotal comments and complaints? How can he or she improve? Maybe it was different when everyone came to church no matter how bad the preaching.
anonymous - I think that is the point of connecting pastoral visiting with preaching. It allows for direct feeback.A trickier part of preaching is that sometimes the message of the gospel offends or challenges. Some of the immediate feedback that Jesus received wasn't all that favourable!
Joseph's point is certainly well taken. If one is fulfilling the preacher's mandate to "afflict the comfortable," it is entirely likely that an excellent sermon would get poor reviews.
That said, my secular work is PR, and constant evaluation is the surest way to improvement.
I was struck by something our mutual friend Tim wrote on his blog about a week ago regarding the "field research" Rick Warren did in the lead-up to establishing Saddleback Church.
"Rick was going door to door in his neighbourhood. He wasn't selling Bibles, he was asking questions, four questions to be exact. I'm quoting from memory, but it seems to me that the four questions went something like this:
- 'Do you go to church?' (if the answer was 'yes', Rick wished them well and moved on).
- 'If you don't go to church, what's the main reason why not?'
- 'If you were to go to church, what sort of a church would you be likely to go to?'
- 'How could I as a pastor be helpful to you?'
The eventual design of Saddleback Church (the congregation, not the building) was based on the results of these two exercises - the Bible study and the survey. They were clear from the beginning that it was to be a church for unchurched people: the purpose was that people who were not Christians should come to faith in Jesus Christ and grow as his followers."
Even to the most inspired evangelist, God nonetheless gave two ears and one mouth. I'm really intrigued by Anonymous's suggestion about evaluation forms and other research tools - not just about the preaching but about everything.
After all, vox populi and all that.
Please feel free to weigh in. Is there a place for evaluation forms, surveys &c in the life of the parish or the life of the wider Church?
And not just to assess the preaching, but to assess all aspects of our minitries.