Parent feedback 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.
Parent Feedback: Worth Every Word
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.
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.
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.
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 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.)
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Frequency: Twice yearly)
One particularly successful thing we’ve done to get feedback is to 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 childcare.
Since you’re asking parents to give you their valuable time, offer childcare. 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. Make sure to 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. Then 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. When you sense a topic has grown stale, move on.
Questions to ask focus groups
Use these questions to spark conversation and get to the root of what parents want and need from your ministry. Estimate 10 minutes of discussion per question, though some may take more time and others less.
- How can we partner with you in your child’s spiritual development?
- What would you like to see your children taught from God’s Word? What do you want them to learn and live out?
- In what areas would you like to see your child grow spiritually?
- What cultural issues and challenges do you see your child facing right now? How can we partner with you to navigate through these things?
- What challenges and struggles are you facing as a parent right now? How can we help you in these areas?
- How can we make your child’s experience at church better?
- What’s working well right now in the children’s ministry? What positive things do you see happening in your child’s life as a result?
- How can we make our children’s ministry even better?
- How can we communicate with you better?
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.
Putting Words to Work
Now that you’ve got the feedback, what do you do with it? How do you assess it? How do you use it?
Look at it with a positive attitude.
Don’t be afraid of negative comments. Look at feedback — positive and negative — as a gift that’ll help your ministry grow. Even in the most extreme criticism, there’s usually at least a grain of truth. Don’t get defensive. Remember that parents are on your side. They want to make the ministry better for their kids just as you do.
Is any of the feedback based on an isolated incident? Have you received similar feedback from other parents? Is the feedback reasonable? Is any of it from someone who has an agenda? Will acting on the feedback benefit your ministry as a whole? And finally, does the feedback — and any subsequent actions you might take as a result of it — line up with the mission and vision of your church?
Create an action plan.
Once you’ve analyzed the feedback, determine what exactly you’ll do with it. If you plan to implement changes, set a plan and time frame to move forward.
Use the feedback as a valuable part of strategic planning.
The information you gather — whether or not you plan to take action on it — is valuable to keep and consider as you look forward to the future of your ministry. Organize feedback in a system that works for you (perhaps as short-, medium-, and long-term goals or as other modes for improvement such as training, safety, travel flow, and more). This pool of organized information will assist you dramatically in strategic planning.
Communicate to parents the changes you’re making.
When you implement a new idea or plan that’s the result of parent feedback, publicize it. Communicate the change in a letter, email, newsletter, or take-home paper.
Listening to parents and gathering feedback is a must for any children’s ministry that truly wants to partner with parents. Parents want to partner with you and give you valuable insight, ideas, and suggestions. They’re just waiting for you to ask! cm
Check out these important tips before you go after feedback.
- Get feedback immediately after big events such as camps, VBS, and outreaches while the experience is still fresh.
- Rely on a few key parents you can go to for honest feedback who love the ministry enough to be very honest…even if it hurts.
- Anonymity tends to bring honesty, so consider making at least 50 percent of your feedback anonymous.
- Offer thank yous, such as a cup of coffee or a chance to win a book, for completing feedback forms or surveys; many people won’t spend the time unless they feel there’s a trade-off.
- Make feedback surveys simple, easy, and short.
- Don’t survey people to death. Use wisdom on how many surveys and focus groups you do during the year.
- Always say thank you for the feedback you get.
Dale Hudson is co-author of 100 Best Ideas to Turbo-Charge Your Children’s Ministry (Group) and the children’s ministry director for Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach, Florida.