Death by comment card would come every Monday morning. The comment cards were processed for our 10 AM staff meetings. All staff, including support staff, saw these cards. Some of the most important items would be there to follow up on such as prayer requests, first-time attendees, and spiritual decisions. But, there would also be the dreaded notes about worship services. It seemed we trained our congregation to actually vote and communicate through a suggestion box rather than face-to-face dialog.
This pinnacled the day when a board member began putting his unhappy notes about worship on the cards for all the staff to read. It took some coaxing, but I finally sat down with him in the Christian version of Switzerland–i.e., Starbucks–for a chat. It is amazing how we as people change our tone, wording, and stance when facing people in real life. It was a fruitful talk, even though I realized that I could not satisfy him since I was following the pastor’s orders that he did not agree with. A tight rope is what many worship leaders have to walk.
In another church, one of my favorite comment cards had a drawing of a baby crying and said, “The music so loud it makes Jesus cry.” No joke. On top of the hand drawn illustration, there was an additional letter stapled that clarified exactly how worship services were to be designed, including directives on decibel levels. My cell phone number was public. In that setting I had the ability to easily chat before or after services or during the week. Instead, the comment card came my way. I guess it would have been harder to describe baby Jesus crying in person.
In the past, I have heard everything from how evil synthesizers are to how women should not show wear open-toed shoes on the platform. “Don’t make us stand.” “It is too loud.” And, another on the same weekend would say, “It does not rock enough, turn it up.” “You (worship leader) do not look like you are worshipping.” To the wonderfully political, “Many of my friends have been saying…” You cannot please everyone. In fact, most know this. We only really think of ourselves first, even though this is not our goal as Christians.
Pastors who help their worship leaders filter feedback are a gift to both their worship leader and their congregation. Feedback is critical. But, living on the whim of everyone’s preference breeds insanity and keeps a church immature. Conflict is good, but it is what we do with everyone not getting their way that matters. How many style-themed venues you launch, or multiple services you lead will not solve immaturity.
Here are some bits of wisdom learned from both successes and failures I have been a part of in dealing with feedback and comment cards:
- Clarify the “win” for a worship service. This means style, and visible goals are agreed upon and communicated. It is so much easier to respond to a volume complaint that is more about style preference if it is clear what the goal is. Are the leaders involved all on the same page with style and goals for the weekend service?
- Develop a filter for feedback. Not everyone needs to see all the feedback. Critics are helpful, even if they might be misbehaving. However, it would help to have a policy of how to deal with these. Is it the job of the worship leader to be a customer service person? What happens when a church member is not satisfied? Are you OK with people not agreeing with your direction?
- Take a poll or have a forum if there proves to be a disconnect. If the feedback is strong, frequent, and relentless then you do have to figure out what the disconnect is. Gather intel by taking a poll to find the attitudes and to clarify the discussion. Then, schedule some chats to listen. Leaders have to change direction at at times and sometimes even strategic passions stop working. Are you willing to listen…for real?
- Moderate expectations to reality. Teach people that being a part of church is not about them liking everything. The comment card can teach that if you use it incorrectly. Disappointment occurs when an expectation is not met. The longer a person is part of a church, the less excited they will be. Why? Any relationship takes work. Are you willing to re-frame how people think when it comes to their personal preferences in worship?
- Challenge people to differentiate between conscience and preference. Preferences are like food. It is not wrong when we have many differing opinions about what spices we like. Church people forget this and sometimes make everything an issue of conscience. An issue of conscience is where you have to draw battle lines. Are you willing to burst the bubbles of faulty fights?
The goal of all of these is to create a culture where helpful dialog can lead to action that benefits all. Leaders are people who learn how to frame a conversion, listening intently to the context they lead within. Sometimes a strategy has to be tweaked. Other times it has to be scrapped. Worship leading is not all the different in this way.