Article originally appeared @ on May 17, 2014

This past Monday my children’s ministry coordinator and myself hosted a post-op on our after school program called Followers. There were some opinions and suggestions voiced from some of our volunteers after the last day of Followers and we wanted to hear and evaluate them among as many leaders as we could get to come.

It’s good to hear from the folks that serve with you in ministry.

Chances are they have some praise as well as some constructive criticism that will make things better (if you’re willing to listen). Instead of just asking what they liked and didn’t like, I led our group through 4 questions (these can be adapted to fit almost any programmatic or even relational context):

1. Is Followers worth doing? Why or why not?

In my opinion, you don’t want to start out a meeting with “what’s wrong” and “what’s good”? Those are obvious questions that you’ll get to. I wanted to know if the program we are running is worth doing or not. This opens up the possibility that some people might think that this particular program might have served its usefulness and it’s time to do a funeral service. At least you gave some room for this question.

Now if the program is good and is meeting needs, then the answer will be obvious. Of course it is worth doing. But even deeper than “yes” is “why is it worth doing”? Getting your leaders to verbalize the reasons why will teach you a lot about their different perspectives and vantage points.

2. What would you say the purpose of Followers is?

This is where I can see if the vision and mission of a particular ministry program has transferred to the volunteers. It is an extension of the previous question, but it allows for more of a succinct answer rather than a philosophical one regarding existence or not. This question also helps to focus the discussion of the next two questions. It keeps the likes and dislikes along a defined path rather than outside of the garden all together.

3. What are we doing right? What’s working?

This is nice to hear. I always like starting with what is going well versus what’s going wrong. Everyone, at least to me, has a suggestion for improvement, but it is important to verbalize and be specific with what is working. Sometimes you have to sit in this question a little longer than it feels you should. Also, don’t let vague, non-specific answers go unchallenged. If a volunteer says something like: “I just love what we’re doing,” then ask, “What specifically are we doing right?” It seems like everyone, again, at least to me, can be specific with constructive criticism, but it’s much more difficult to be specific with praise.

4. What isn’t working? What do we need to shore up?

I save this question for last because it’s the one everyone is waiting for. It’s important to not take things personally here. You are not the ministry program. Your identity is found in Christ apart from what you do. So keep those two things separate. And don’t get defensive. After all, you’re asking for their opinion, so listen and try to understand. Stephen Covey’s famous line here is helpful: “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”

Because there might be a handful of things to talk about here, keep everyone focused on one topic until it has been exhausted, then ask for more thoughts. Discussions like this have to be guided well. Don’t let people get away with sharing a concern without a suggestion or thought to a possible solution. Also, don’t let anyone call any other volunteer out for something bad they did. Again, this is where leadership in an evaluation meeting is vitally important. Separate the issue from the person. If someone really did something bad and it is brought to your attention in a meeting like this, then thank the person for bringing it to your attention and say you’ll address it directly with that person privately. Public ridicule does not help anyone out.

Outcome of my Followers evaluation meeting

It was great. I was able to hear that Followers is worth doing and why. Also, it was neat to hear my leaders’ take on the purpose of Followers. While that is not the language I have used, they still got it right. We were able to celebrate and rejoice with what we are doing right and what is working. Everything from simple processes, to things we have learned and conquered over the years, to being thankful for the addition of fruit when we do snacks. When I asked the last question there was no shortage of input. There was a series of situations that happened at our last Followers meeting related to discipline. Usually I handle the discipline, but because I was gone, this issue reared its ugly head. I’m glad it did because it highlighted our need for a discipline process that everyone is aware of and we apply consistently. Even the criticism was constructive and really unified our sense of purpose and allowed us all to tackle these problems together. I appreciated everyone’s thoughts and ideas. I’ve got a great group of volunteers who love kids and want to introduce them to Jesus and disciple them!