Saturday, January 24, 2009

Evaluating our preaching - and maybe everything else

The post below has sparked a bit of discussion about how to assess good preaching - especially from the perspective of the preacher. As I said below, I'm told I'm a good preacher. But I'm not quite sure if I believe it.

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.


Joseph said...

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.


Anonymous said...

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.

Joseph said...

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!

Malcolm+ said...

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.


Anonymous said...

I know that at least some "chruch growth" programs operate with the survey model. "Natural Church Development" has been using the survey/ assessment approach for some time. Hoever, their approach is to assess the entire congregation, giving a picture of the local parish, rather than specifically the clergy.

I'll have to think on this a bit more.

Malcolm+ said...

From the initial suggestion by anonymous, my thinking on this evolved to the prospect of a survey on all aspects rather than just evaluating the preaching. I'll have to look further into this Natural Church Development.

BTW, thanks for the plug at your site, Joseph.

Anonymous said...

I'll also have to check my spelling next time I comment. Can you tell I wrote that at the long end of a Sunday? :^)

Erin said...

I thought of this discussion Sunday when I forgot my sermon at home. I realized it as I pulled up to the church and phoned my rector's warden and asked her to stop and pick it up for me. She was running late and this put her even later so I announced that the service was starting a little late while we waited for my sermon. It arrived, the service began, and after I finished preaching one member of the congregation yelled was worth the wait. One of the advantages of being in a really small parish is you don't really need to survey them - they have ways of letting you know immediately what they thought of the sermon. I have another parishioner who has gestured to me wrap it up when he thought I was going on too long too :-)

Country Parson said...

I'm conflicted on this. My mother-in-law's husband was only interested in a sermon that made him "feel good." My own mother delighted in preachers who could pepper their sermons with lots of jokes and anecdotes more suitable for The Reader's Digest. My good, very conservative, friend Don, is suspect of any sermon that might imply something negative about conservatives and patriotism. Likewise, Sue, who distrusts any preacher who is not clearly liberal in his/her political views.

Anonymous said...

I seem to have claimed the “anonymous” tag in this thread, so I will hang on to it.

From where I sit in the pew, I think you are under-estimating your congregations. I don’t think the point of an evaluation is to find out if people liked the sermon. I don’t need to “like” the sermon – I want to be inspired, provoked, educated, moved to action.

An evaluation form gives the quiet majority of the congregation a voice – the ones who go home thinking “I wish he had … ” or “that was inspiring” or “that was inaccurate”, but who don’t have the guts to say more than “thank you for your sermon” on the way out the door.

The important sections of the evaluation would be questions like – what could I have done better? What worked? What was the main point of the sermon? -(might uncover if the congregation understood what you were trying to get across). Was it appropriate for this congregation, today? What could I do to improve my delivery? Was it too short, too long, just right? Did it evoke a reaction in you? Did it make you think? Did you feel the Holy Spirit? Did you learn something new? Did you find it compelling? Boring? Could you hear every word? What about use of holy scripture: what do you wish I had done with the text? Was it worth listening to? Any suggestions?

Not every Sunday, but once in a while, or maybe just some listeners. A broader survey is good too, as long as you plan to act on the results.

Thanks for listening. Good luck on Sunday.