Can You Hear Me Now?

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Feedback from parents is vital
to your ministry’s growth, health, and longevity. Here’s the
ultimate guide on how to ask for it.

Parents are our greatest allies in children’s ministry. Children’s
ministry as a whole has recognized this in recent years and is
championing the importance of partnering with parents. From
take-home papers and family curriculum to parenting classes and
family worship experiences, children’s ministries everywhere are
striving to make vital connections with parents.

No matter the size of your church, budget, or staff, there’s one
sure thing you can do to partner with parents: Listen to them. This
is simple but effective. Listening to and gathering feedback from
parents can take your children’s ministry and parent partnership to
a whole new level. And no matter how awesome your children’s
ministry is now, it can and will improve when you gather and use
feedback from parents.

Feedback: Worth Every Word

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There are many valuable principles, ideas, and strategies that
translate from successful business practices into children’s
ministry management. Gathering feedback is one area where this is
especially true. Leaders of great companies know how important it
is to listen to their customers, and they go to great lengths to do
so. They know getting customer input is critical to their success.
And the feeling is mutual: Recent trends show that many customers
value giving input even more than they value low prices. Companies
that isolate themselves from their customers contribute to their
own demise. Likewise, children’s ministries that isolate themselves
from parents’ input, ideas, and suggestions limit a vital
partnership. Instead, do the following.

• Show parents you value them. Often we only seek
out parents when we need resources or more volunteers, which can
lead to parents feeling used. Intentionally asking for their
feedback, though, shows that you value their input and take their
concerns to heart. It demonstrates that what they have to say is
important to you and your ministry.

• Care about what parents think. Actively seeking
parents’ opinions shows that you want to know their challenges,
issues, and situations. It demonstrates that you’re trying to meet
their needs.

• Partner with parents. When you reach out to link
arms with parents by gathering their feedback, they see and feel
that you’re partnering with them in discipling their children. A
free and open interchange of ideas and feedback lets you work
together with them as a team.

How to Get What You Need

Use these great techniques to effectively gather parent
feedback.

• Suggestion Box-(Frequency: Always) It’s simple
and it’s been around a long time, but the suggestion box is a
proven tool that’s very effective. That’s because it’s anonymous
and the people who leave comments are motivated to tell you what
they have to say. A few boxes with comment cards placed in key
areas around your ministry can bring you valuable feedback and
uncover issues you need to know about.

• Open Forums-(Frequency: Impromptu) You probably
have meetings scheduled with parents this year — camp meetings,
new Christians meetings, baby dedication meetings, and more. Why
not dedicate time at the end of each for discussion or to direct
parents to feedback cards they can complete?

• Online Surveys-(Frequency: Weekly) Online
surveys are especially helpful if you want feedback from families
after their first visit, chiefly because they’re convenient for
parents. Send a letter or distribute cards inviting parents to take
the survey, and let them know that at the end of the survey
there’ll be a coupon for a free gift from your church. (The gift
can be anything from a free coffee to a book.)

You can set up online surveys fairly inexpensively. Companies such
as Zoomerang.com and Polldaddy.com offer templates
and services to get your online surveys going.

• Email Surveys-(Frequency: Twice yearly) If you
don’t have time or resources to set up an online survey, an email
survey can work well also. Gather parents’ email addresses and
invite them to answer feedback questions and send them back to you
via email. Keep the number of questions you ask to no more than 10,
since many parents will elaborate on their answers.

• Mail Surveys-(Frequency: Twice yearly) Send out
a feedback questionnaire. Include a self-addressed return envelope
or ask parents to turn it in the next time they attend
church.

• Feedback Cards-(Frequency: Twice yearly) Hand
parents a feedback form when they drop off their kids and ask them
to return it to you at pick up.

• Focus Groups-(Frequency: Twice yearly) One
particularly successful thing we’ve done to get feedback is create
parent focus groups. These focus groups have been especially
beneficial when it comes to getting direct feedback on topics we’re
specifically interested in. Here are the steps we take when
organizing a focus group.

1. Determine a convenient meeting time. Keep parents’
busyness in mind and select a low-risk time that’ll work best for
them.

2. Select a place to meet. Meet at the church, or, if you
prefer a more relaxed environment, meet at someone’s home.

3. Provide child care. Since you’re asking parents to give
you their valuable time, offer child care. This makes it a lot
easier for them to say yes.

4. Make focus groups age-specific. To get the information
you need, strategically organize your groups. Hold individual focus
groups for parents of infants and toddlers, preschoolers,
elementary kids, and preteens.

5. Choose your participants carefully. I recommend
inviting eight to 10 parents. This is the optimal number to drum up
good discussion without people feeling like they have to talk over
each other to be heard. Invite a variety of parents. Invite parents
who’ve attended your church for a long time and some who just
started attending. Invite parents who are longtime Christians and
some who are new Christians. Invite single parents and married
parents. The more diverse your group is, the better their insights
will be. Don’t just invite your friends who’ll tell you what you
want to hear; select a different group of parents each time. And
don’t invite someone who’s openly antagonistic toward your ministry
and will immediately create a negative spirit in the meeting. Pick
parents who’ll bring balanced conversation.

6. Send invitations and have parents RSVP. Send
invitations three to four weeks before the meeting so parents have
time to plan and RSVP. Send a reminder email or postcard the week
before. Call parents you haven’t heard from, and have a backup list
of potential parents to invite in case someone can’t make it.

7. Provide a snack or meal. This gesture shows parents you
value them.

8. Don’t plan for longer than an hour and a half to two hours
for your meeting.
Start and end promptly. Honor parents’
time.

9. Begin with prayer. Ask God to lead your discussion and
to give everyone present his heart and wisdom.

10. Ask for introductions. Let parents introduce
themselves and tell about their family. Keep it moving; give
parents one or two minutes to talk.

11. Ask for honest, open dialogue. Establish an
environment at the beginning where parents feel free to state their
ideas and opinions. Tell them there are no right or wrong answers.
Assure them that they won’t hurt your feelings.

12. Dive into discussion. Come prepared with a list of no
more than 10 questions and topics you plan to discuss. (For ideas,
see “Questions to Ask Focus Groups” on page 86.) When you sense a
topic has grown stale, move on.

13. Take notes. Enlist a ministry volunteer to take notes
on a laptop throughout the meeting, and jot down key points you
want to reference later yourself. Careful notes ensure you can go
back and review later, but you don’t want to spend all your
attention and energy trying to keep up with notes; you want to
participate in the discussion — that’s the reason for having
someone dedicated solely to this task.

14. Close with prayer. Ask God to bless the families, and
thank them for their time and insights.

15. Follow up. Send a personal note to each parent to say
thanks within one week of the meeting.

16. Create an action plan and initiatives. Evaluate and
make plans to implement the ideas you and your team gained from the
meeting.


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