How To Give And Receive Feedback With Your Church Volunteers

This post has been adapted from episode 16 of our podcast. You can subscribe to the podcast here or read the transcript below. 

Kevin Fontenot: Hey there, I’m Kevin Fontenot and I’m here with Scott Magdalein. We’re your hosts of the Thriving Ministry Teams Podcast, where we talk about all things related to church leadership, discipleship and training.

Kevin Fontenot: On today’s episode, we’re talking about giving and receiving feedback with your volunteer teams. In the past we’ve talked a lot about volunteer surveys that should be sent out every so often to help you get formal feedback from your volunteer teams.

Kevin Fontenot: Scott, I know you’re a big fan of these volunteer survey’s right?

Scott Magdalein: I am, yeah. So, I mean, I’ve been a big believer in surveys ever since … Well, mainly ever since my days at YouVersion when I had most of my volunteers were all remote. And so the only way I could really connect with them and … I was personally managing something like 300, or so many volunteers, and they were all very part-time volunteers working in digital, you know, remote around the world. The only way I could really gauge at scale who was … How I was doing as a leader, was to be able to survey them about their engagement, about their enjoyment of the role, if they feel like they’re doing a good job, or not doing a good job. And so surveys became like a go-to tool for me at the time.

Scott Magdalein: And then I started to use those with my in-person volunteers, church campus, people that would be in children’s ministry, or greeters, or my small group leaders I was managing, and it turned out to be just as effective for people who I actually see on Sundays because people tend to respond a little bit more candidly when they’re filling out a survey, then they do if I’m standing there asking them how do you enjoy your job? You know, how do you enjoy your volunteer role? You get better data if they’re just typing it out in a survey online. Especially, if you are brave enough to go with an anonymous survey, which takes a little courage.

Kevin Fontenot: Yeah, I always loved the anonymous surveys, and also hate them because I always secretly feel that even if I am candid there is gonna be some sort of tracking in there that knows it’s me.

Scott Magdalein: Right, yeah. I had a gripe. I wrote a Medium post probably two years ago, a gripe about anonymous 360 reviews, or evaluations on teams. And one of my gripes was any kind of review that’s specific enough to be helpful is also gonna be specific enough to let them know that it was me with a gripe, or with a complaint about another co-worker. I wasn’t a big fan of anonymous 360 degree evaluations, but that’s like team member to team member. Anonymous surveys with larger teams tend to be a little bit less … And especially the way you format them. If you format the anonymous survey with a little bit more like Likert scales, and multiple choice, rather than write in your answer, then you can keep it fairly well anonymous, and not feel like it’s gonna tip … They’re gonna be afraid of being honest ’cause it’s gonna tip off the leader of who filled out survey. Anyway, there is a way to do that, that allays fears.

Kevin Fontenot: Yeah, my wife did one. She works in property management, and so she works for a company that owns lots of different properties across a big area here in Dallas-Fort Worth area. And they had to do all these anonymous surveys, but they made you put what city you were in. And the apartment that she works at is the only one in that city, so it didn’t make any sense for it to actually be anonymous ’cause there would only be one person in the city that had the exact same experience that she had in her job.

Scott Magdalein: Right, exactly. Yeah, that kind of kills the anonymous honesty, and transparency piece of it.

Kevin Fontenot: Well, I’d like for us to go a little bit direction today, to talk more along the lines of impromptu giving and receiving feedback from volunteers. Instead, of something formal like surveys that we’ve talked about in the past. And this type of feedback would stem from everyday conversations that you’re having with your team members. You may call this coaching in your ministry. Scott, can you walk us through the importance of this type of impromptu coaching?

Scott Magdalein: Sure, yeah. As far as importance … Well, one of the big reasons why it’s important is because it communicates presence, and paying attention of the leader. For volunteers on a Sunday morning … We’ll use … Most volunteers in churches work on Sunday mornings. I mean, there are some midweek stuff, but we’re gonna talk about Sunday mornings.

Scott Magdalein: You’re walking around on a Sunday morning, as a leader if you’re not engaging with your volunteers in any kind of helpful way, or any kind of evaluative way, then your volunteers are going to get … Essentially, they’re gonna get in a lull. They are going to be comfortable knowing that they’re not being watched, if that makes sense? They don’t need to feel like they’re being monitored like big brother, but at the same time they do need to know that the leader of a team, or the leader of that ministry area is paying attention. Right? That’s important for them to know that if I do, do something the wrong way, or if I am slacking, or letting the kids crazier than they should go, or not really actually meeting every person possible at door, then somebody is going to notice.

Scott Magdalein: And that level of accountability of somebody noticing me not getting my job done quite right is a big part of accountability in getting the job done well. And of course you don’t need to be hovering over their shoulder. That’s not the kind of noticing I mean. But just somebody noticing is a big accountability piece.

Scott Magdalein: The other thing about it is … The reason why it’s really effective is because realtime feedback means being able to immediately make the change. For example, let’s say we have a greeter who is not doing a great job of opening doors. They’re either distracted, or they’re talking with friends, or they’re just lazy, or not paying attention, or whatever. A greeter leader, the guest service’s team leader walking up and saying, “Hey, Sam, I love that you’re connecting with your friend, but this role really is important for you to be holding the door for as many people, and really every single person that comes in this building. Could you do your best to keep that door held for every single person?”

Scott Magdalein: Not only kind of reinforces that holding the door is important, but it gives Sam the opportunity to immediately fix it, and then start to build a habit of holding the door, so the next time he serves, he’s getting used to I hold the door for everybody because I was told to. Versus waiting a week, or getting an email later, or a text message, “Hey, don’t forget to hold the door for people,” is not going to be quite as effective as a feedback mechanism.

Kevin Fontenot: That’s really good. You know, one of the things I think of as well is the idea of if you’re not actively working with your team members, whether that’s your volunteer team members, people underneath you in staff positions as well. It can make you seem like you don’t care about that position ultimately as well. If you go six months at a time without doing any sort of training, or feedback for specific members as they’re serving in these different areas, it can feel like, “Well, does my role even matter that much if someone isn’t checking in on me every once in a while?”

Scott Magdalein: Yeah. The dynamic of having that personal kind of touch from a leader isn’t just about being watched, it’s also about being appreciated. Feeling like you’re a part of a team, that you’re noticed. Those are all important factors in someone being engaged, and having a positive experience, and serving on your team. I mean, other things are, it saves relationships. If there is any kind of reprimanding, or kind of corrective feedback you’re giving people in realtime, if you’re doing it in a positive way, a helpful way, then you’re not going to be letting that thing annoy you.

Scott Magdalein: If you go back to Sam again, who’s not holding the door for somebody. If you go week in, week out, and you don’t say anything to Sam because you’re worried about hurting his feelings, then by the time it’s time to say something to Sam, you’re gonna have weeks of festered annoyance, or being bothered by Sam, and so it will very likely hurt your relationship with Sam, if you have any kind of relationship outside of serving. And also it’s going to make that time by the time you do bring it up, it’s gonna feel a little bit rough, right? It’s gonna feel like a real reprimand instead of just a guide, like, a reminder kind of thing.

Scott Magdalein: That realtime feedback in the role helps to also save those relationships. Of course not all feedback, realtime feedback in the moment is negative. It’s not all fixing this problem, or correcting, you know, something they’re doing incorrect. You can also have, and really you should be in the moment giving positive feedback. “Sam, you’re doing a great job holding the door,” or, “Sam, you’re doing a great job shaking every hand,” or “Man, you look like you really love being here. Thank you for greeting everybody with a great attitude and a smile.”

Scott Magdalein: It’s not just a matter of fixing things in realtime, it’s also a matter of encouraging … Yeah, encouraging good behavior, or good actions in realtime.

Kevin Fontenot: That’s really good. I love that you brought that up, just because when you’re giving feedback in realtime it can tend to only focus in on only the negative aspects of it. ‘Cause those are the ones we want to correct instantaneously ’cause we don’t want them to happen again. But I’d love for you to kind of go into some more best practices to avoid it from feeling like a reprimand all the time.

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, so something that I used to do when I had more of a Sunday morning volunteer management role was … This was one of the most helpful things for me on Sunday mornings, was actually having a little sheet of paper, or I use a Moleskine notebook kind of thing, and I would write down things that I wanted to remember, things that I wanted to followup on, and also things when I would correct somebody. I would actually write down the correction ’cause I want to remember like Sam was doing this week, or Sam was doing this last month. I’m gonna check my book, and see I’ve already talked to him once, or maybe I need to go talk to him again.

Scott Magdalein: The flip side of that, let’s say I give Sam a correction this morning, next Sunday morning I want to look in my notes, and I want to go find a reason to give Sam something positive to say. You might say it’s like a positive / negative kind of reinforcement kind of a thing, but the point is to … For Sam to not only get that negative reinforcement, not only get negative attention. There is psychology things about attention is attention even if it’s negative attention. You want them to not only get negative attention from you, you want all your people on your team to also get that positive attention, that encouragement, that reinforcement of positive behaviors.

Kevin Fontenot: That’s really good. One of the things that I love doing when I’m coaching, or discipling someone is to do kind of what you’re talking about, but put it into a sandwich. Instead of just focusing in on something negative this time, or something positive the next time, trying to always give both those feedbacks at the same time. For instance, if we’re talking about Sam at the door again, we could instead of just talking about the negative aspects of not holding the door open, we could be like, “Hey, Sam, you’re doing great here. I love that you’re helping guests find these new places, and being able to really recognize when new guests are here for the first time, and pointing them in the right directions to go. But one thing I did notice is you’re not necessarily holding the door open for everyone. You’re spending a little bit too much time with friends that are coming in, and missing a couple people. That would be something that you could do better, but again you’re doing a great job on the first time guesting, making sure that you’re finding them correctly, and pointing them in where they need to go.”

Kevin Fontenot: And so that’s a really easy way to kind of make your feedback in such a way that someone isn’t gonna take it the wrong way. They’re gonna get some positive reinforcement in there of something they’re doing really well, and then they’re gonna get some stuff that they can work on. And if you position it that way in that sandwich, it’s also helping you as well in your relationship with that volunteer. ‘Cause it can be really easy to just focus in on the negative thing that someone is doing, but if you take the moment inside of your head just to think through, “Well, hey, I’ve found out this negative thing that they’re doing, I’ve recognized it. What are some positive things about this volunteer that I can bring out as well?”

Kevin Fontenot: Because if we only focus on the negative things, it becomes really easy for that to fester inside of minds. You’re like, “Man, why is this person always doing these things wrong if I’ve told them a thousand times?” But then there could be those complete opposite side of the spectrum where those volunteers are doing things so much better than everyone else, and you need to reinforce that sort of behavior sort of as well.

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, and with that, if you’re talking to somebody about a kind of reprimanding, or corrective behavior, it’s important to do it quietly. Not in front of a group of people where you might embarrass them. Just kind of pull them aside, speak softly, so remember your tone of voice when you’re talking to them to correct them. Most likely you’re working with adult volunteers, and most adult volunteers don’t appreciate being fussed at. Using a kind soft tone of voice, in a place where they’re not going to be embarrassed in front of their friends or others is really important.

Scott Magdalein: And also sometimes there is things that need to be corrected, but they’re not urgent. They’re not necessarily like right now is not the right time, and so that’s why I love having a little notebook with me so I can write it down to followup with them later. Now again I don’t leave it, I still actually followup with them about the thing. But it’s not necessarily always the right time to do it right there on a Sunday morning. A lot of stuff is simple enough, and it’s easy enough to pull them aside quickly, or we just kind of quietly talk to them where they are. But sometimes it’s just not urgent, you can write it down, and followup later on a phone call, or pull them aside … Or schedule a coffee a meeting.

Scott Magdalein: Or even if it’s in your next team meeting, maybe something that Sam is doing. Poor Sam, he’s getting picked on today. Maybe something that Sam is doing reminds you of something that the whole team needs to be coached on, and so maybe it’s not something that you need to tell Sam right now, maybe it’s a note for the next training meeting, or the next Sunday morning pow-wow if either of those … That’s something that you can include in your training in the future, or if you’re one of those amazing team leaders who uses TrainedUp, you can include it. Go back to your computer, and record a new module and training, and make it a new module in your video training.

Kevin Fontenot: As we’re talking about this I have a question that I didn’t script out ahead of time, so I hope I don’t catch you too off guard here, Scott. One of the things that I’m thinking of is as we’re talking about really giving feedback to volunteers, do you have any thoughts on ways that we can also encourage volunteers to give us feedback in realtime?

Scott Magdalein: I personally don’t accept a realtime feedback. I’m just kidding. Yeah, so, realtime feedback from people that you lead back toward you as the leader is a little tough because … Just because of the leader / follower dynamic, or the boss / employee dynamic, if we’re talking about feedback from employees. Most employees, or most followers don’t like to give feedback in realtime to their leader. In fact, most don’t like to give any kind of feedback to their leader about their leader’s job performance, or anything like that period.

Scott Magdalein: You’ll have those church folks who really have no problem giving you feedback about everything that’s on their mind no matter what it is. Those are always a blessing to have in your church, or on your team.

Kevin Fontenot: We never have those sort of people inside our church. I have no clue what you’re talking about, Scott.

Scott Magdalein: No, I’ve just heard stories. I haven’t experienced that either personally. No, the other of those people. But so you’ve got to know that most people are not gonna give you feedback. Most people are gonna suffer in silence, and just kind of put up with your leadership kind of snafus, and problems that you have. And so you really need to be intentional about asking for that kind of feedback. That’s why I love surveys. I mean, it doesn’t often happen in realtime, so surveys are a great tool to get that feedback.

Scott Magdalein: Or just asking kind of very candidly in a private setting, this is something I … “So, Sam, something is … I try to walk around with a notebook, and make notes. Is there anything about that, that makes you uncomfortable?” Be specific. Ask them for specific feedback on specific things. ‘Cause again it’s very unlikely that you’re gonna have a volunteer that offers feedback to you as their leader. It just doesn’t happen very often.

Kevin Fontenot: Yeah, I can agree with that. One of the things that I’m thinking about with getting feedback from volunteers isn’t necessarily around our job performance as ministry leaders, but instead around things that can be improved inside that ministry. For instance, processes, if we’re talking about greeters. You know, is there a certain way that we’re doing things, pointing people in certain directions? Or maybe we’re handing them too much information right at the door? Are there things that we can tweak about that process? Do you have any thoughts on that sort of thing, where it’s talking about the ministry area processes? Instead of feedback on performance for the leader?

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, sure. I still think it’s going to be one of those things where as a leader you’re gonna have to ask for specific feedback on those things. Most people aren’t going to say, “Hey, the training process is a little lacking.” You’re gonna have to ask, “Hey, how well equipped do you feel when you show up on a Sunday morning?” Or, “How ready do you feel when you show up on a Sunday morning, and is there anything that I can do as a leader to improve that feeling?” You’re gonna have to ask specifics.

Scott Magdalein: But as far as receiving it, as always you’ve got to receive any kind of feedback or correction, or positive feedback with humility. If it’s negative feedback, you’ve got to be humble so it doesn’t get to you. If it’s positive feedback, you’ve got to be humble so it doesn’t get to your head. And as a leader, working from a position of humility is not only just going to make it easier for you to cope with negative and positive feedback, it’s also going to make you a little bit more empathetic, and understanding when you’re providing feedback to others on your team.

Kevin Fontenot: That makes sense. Besides just talking about impromptu feedback, what are some other ways that you can coach your team members?

Scott Magdalein: Well, I’m a big fan of structured one-on-one meetings with each team member. Now the frequency of those one-on-one meetings, and the scope, or like the length, how much stuff you cover in those meetings really has a lot to do with how many people are on your team, and also the depth of their own role on your team. If you’ve got a small team, or if you’re a ministry leader who is leading a team of leaders, it might be easier for you to meet with them once a week, or talk with them on a phone all … For a short phone call once a week.

Scott Magdalein: If you have a bunch of people that you lead directly, maybe that’s a once a month, or once a quarter one-on-one with those folks. Also the more people you lead, also those roles tend to be a little bit lighter, so they’re not leaders necessarily, or maybe they are a leader, but it’s a leader of a small area, a small group. Those one-on-one meetings don’t have to be super frequent, but they should kind of match up with how … The scope, or the depth of the role of the person you’re leading.

Scott Magdalein: At TrainedUp, we do … Or I do weekly one-on-one meetings with my direct reports, and then I do monthly one-on-one meetings with everyone else in the company. And the same thing, Kevin, I think also is doing weekly one-on-ones with his team, his direct reports in the company. And so for us, weekly is really good for people that you work with closely, and they report directly to you.

Scott Magdalein: If you have a volunteer team of probably anywhere between 10 and 20, or 25 or so, a monthly 10 minute phone call is good. Especially, if they know it’s coming, and they know the point of it. Frequency is really important to nail down. You don’t want it to be too infrequent because then you’ll have a conversation that’s completely irrelevant. You know, it’ll be waiting too long. If you have it too often, you won’t be able to keep up with it, it’ll just be noise.

Scott Magdalein: The other thing about one-on-one meetings is it helps to have pre-selected questions that you go in with it covering two kind of different areas. One would be a pulse, or the same kind of questions you ask on a regular basis, or every one-on-one meeting. That would have to do with things like energy, with motivation, with buy-in, with still onboard with the mission, those sort of things. Those sort of pulse things. And the way we do those is answer that on a scale of one to ten. How much energy do you have in your role right now? Scale of one to ten. Ten being at the most, one being the least. Those are the pulse questions, and those are standard for every meeting.

Scott Magdalein: And then there is a … You know, you can mix up a handful of other questions that are maybe a little bit more personal, maybe a little bit more thought provoking for your team member. And I like to send those ahead of time, so that they actually have time to think through those. You know, anywhere from three to five questions that require a little bit more thought. That also gives you … If they’ll answer that, and send you that before the meeting, that gives you a little bit of fodder for you to know what to talk about. ‘Cause you don’t need to focus on everything, every piece of feedback. And if they send you their answers first, then you can kind of guide that conversation, guide that one-on-one meeting to the things that are most important, most pressing in the meeting, instead of kind of feeling like you have to cover everything in that one-on-one meeting.

Kevin Fontenot: One of the things you alluded to earlier was the idea of the team pow-wow meeting, or kind of the Sunday morning coaching before anything happens. You get there a little early to do a 15 minute meeting with all the team members that are gonna be serving that week, and I think that’s also a really great way to do coaching for your team.

Kevin Fontenot: Likewise, instead of just having something that you’re going to tell people each week, “This is what we’re doing. This is a mission, a vision.” Instead of just being about that big hoorahing, and getting people motivated for what they’re doing. That definitely needs to be a part of that Sunday morning pow-wow, but the other parts of it is taking time to intentionally ask about things that could be improved inside of the team itself. You know, are there ways that we can get better about specific processes? Do you feel that there is something else that we’re missing here? And just taking that intentional time for the feedback in those pow-wow meetings is a great way to get more information about how you’re doing as a leader, what can be done inside of the different processes for the different ministry roles that you’re leading?

Kevin Fontenot: And because like Scott said, during the impromptu times of trying to get feedback from someone on your team, probably not gonna happen that often, and I think I would agree with him there. But if you ask some of those specific questions on more of a weekly basis, and then really allow people to have that open time, and encourage them to give as much feedback as possible there, and in a short amount of time, you can really facilitate a way to get better each and every week inside of those processes.

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, the Sunday morning pow-wow is a great time to cover things that you can’t really cover in an email, or maybe you want to reiterate some things that you may have emailed earlier, or maybe even reiterate some of things that your team went through on TrainedUp, and just kind of hit the really high points. Those are some easy ways to extend your coaching, or extend your touch with leading your team in a really tangible way. And also just I mean, Sunday morning pow-wows are a great way to focus people back on mission, focus people back on what their job is going to be for that day.

Kevin Fontenot: That does it for today’s episode of the Thriving Ministry Teams Podcast. If you’re interested in learning more about this process of giving and receiving feedback with your volunteer teams, or how to have one-on-ones with your team, you can check out some other episodes of our podcast. Specifically, if you check out episode eleven of our podcast, it’s about how to have one-on-ones with your church staff, but a lot of that is going to carry over to one-on-ones with your team as well.

Kevin Fontenot: And as always if you’re interested in doing something related to training inside of your church, you’re frustrated with only getting 60, 50% of your people showing up to your training meetings, head over to trainedup.church, start a conversation with us. We’d love to tell you how you can get up to that 100% of people trained inside of your church using TrainedUp. Head over to trainedUp.church, and we’ll see you guys next week.

About Kevin Fontenot

Kevin is the VP of Growth at TrainedUp. He is passionate about helping churches make disciples with technology. In the past, He has served on staff at churches, overseeing small groups and creative ministry. He lives in Dallas, TX with his wife Brooke and their two dogs.