Three Problems with Anonymous Feedback

Years ago, I heard someone say, “Any anonymous notes or feedback should be thrown away and not even considered. If someone doesn’t have the guts to put their name on it, disregard it.” Frankly, I was uncomfortable with that, and I still am. Sometimes people fear they’ll be rejected because of their feedback, and so won’t put their name on it. Does that mean their feedback doesn’t matter? I don’t think so.

So guess what I do when I receive anonymous feedback or comments? I throw it away. If it is intended for someone I work with, they never receive it, because I don’t bother passing it on. “Wait a minute…” you’re wondering. Didn’t I just say I was uncomfortable with what I’d heard about anonymous feedback? Yep – and I still feel that way. I don’t throw anonymous feedback away because of the whole “someone should have the guts to put their name on it!” reasoning. I’ve simply come to learn that anonymous feedback just isn’t helpful – in fact, it’s usually detrimental.

Here’s why.

  1. When we receive anonymous feedback, we don’t know who it’s from.

Yes, I’m stating the obvious, but it’s important to recognize this. We don’t know the context of the person who wrote it. We don’t know what experiences shaped their feedback. And so we end up assuming things about the person, most of which are probably false. For example, let’s say someone is critical of how a church handles check-in for children’s ministry, and they say so “anonymously.” We don’t know the ages of their children. We don’t even know if they have children. What is it about check-in that they don’t feel is working? We can’t even ask, because we don’t know who provided the feedback. So then we “assume” things and make tweaks based on our assumptions, having no idea if we assumed the right things. If the person had provided their name, we would know more about the situation, and what needs improvement.

  1. We can’t dialogue.

When someone writes one or two sentences (or even a full page) of feedback, it probably is not an exhaustive explanation of everything that person is experiencing. If we could have a conversation, we could truly discover more about the feedback and what we can learn from it. For example, if someone is critical of a video clip used during worship, it might be helpful to know that it was because it brought back painful childhood memories. That would help us understand the situation. But the anonymous comment, “That video clip made me uncomfortable” doesn’t allow us to have a dialogue to learn more about what’s really taking place.

  1. Credibility is tied to relationships.

If a stranger passing by on the street gave me the same advice as someone with whom I’ve had a close friendship since high school, I’m much more likely to listen the person with whom I have a relationship. They have credibility, because I know and trust them. But anonymous feedback has even less credibility than a stranger on the street – at least I can put a face on the stranger on the street! Anonymous feedback will always be the feedback of strangers, who don’t have much credibility (and rightly so).

Feedback can be great – in fact, it’s necessary for facilitating continued growth and development. I frequently solicit feedback from others, for the sake of seeing opportunities to improve! But I’ve learned over the years that anonymous feedback doesn’t actually help you improve anything – it’s just makes you a slave to strangers.

Jerod Walker began serving as a pastor at the age of 19 while in Bible college in rural Missouri. Since then he’s served in churches from 35 to 1800, as a children’s pastor, family ministries pastor, and lead pastor. In 2011 he started Legacy Christian Church in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. Jerod currently serves as a ministry coach and resides in Wisconsin with his wife and 6 children.

Four Ways to Get More Info Cards from Guests

So, you still have guests fill out a card…

Don’t worry! You’re not alone and it’s actually still the most reliable way to get information for solid follow-up.

You’ve got your checklist of follow-up materials for first-time guests after your Saturday/Sunday worship service(s).

  • You’ve purchased postcards (complete with your church logo and a hipster couple in a coffee shop), so someone can send them a handwritten postcard on Monday morning.

  • You’ve set up a system so that they receive a follow-up email from the lead pastor (automatically), also on Monday morning.

  • You’ve created a workflow that ensures someone has been asked to make a phone call to them by Thursday.

  • You’ve set up a sequential email campaign, so that additional follow-up emails go out at 2, 3, and 4 weeks after their first visit.

All that’s great! Except, how do you capture that information from first-time guests so that you can do any of that follow-up?

We’re going to look at a classic method of capturing guest information, the communication card (also known as a connect card, next steps card, or the tear-off flap). You may be thinking, “We tried that, but we couldn’t get guests to fill it out.” Well, that’s what these next steps are all about. You’ll likely never be able to get every single guest to fill out a card, but your chances improve greatly using the suggestions below.

  1. Mention the card multiple times.

“If you insert it, they will fill it out” simply doesn’t apply here. If you want guests filling out the cards, you need to mention them, from the stage, more than once every single Sunday. Will your regulars get tired of hearing about it? Yes. But, frankly, it’s not all about them! I digress, though. At a minimum, make reference to it early in the service, during some kind of welcome; and then refer to it again after the message or before giving time.

  1. Train your “regulars” to all fill out the card.

Notice we didn’t mention “guest card” at all in this post. If you have a special card that is only for guests, you’re doing it wrong. Guests typically want to avoid standing out. Anything they are asked to do that is different from everyone else will likely be ignored. The flip side of that – “If everyone else is doing it, I’d better do it, too, so that I don’t stand out.” So if I don’t see anyone near me filling out a card, I feel awkward if I do so; but if I’m the only one not filling it out, I’ll go ahead and do it so that I’m not “the weird one.” Include in your welcome some reason that everyone in the room should be filling out a card.

  1. Ask for something unique each week.

If the card never changes, my reasons for filling it out are reduced (whether a guest or regular attendee). So, ask for at least one thing different every week. One great example – on the back of the card, suggest some “next steps” that people can commit to, based on the message that day (which very naturally gives you a second time to mention the card, right after the message). Or, change the opportunities to serve each week, highlighting just a couple of areas of greatest need. If I’ve checked a box or written in a blank, I’m more likely to feel I need to do something with it, like turn it in.

  1. Collect during giving.

Conventional wisdom in churches is that guests feel awkward during giving time, especially if baskets (buckets, bags, plates – I was part of a church plant that used planter pots because they were cheap!) are passed through the rows of seats. Asking everyone to put their cards in those baskets is great in 2 ways: (1) It passes by every person, making it much easier to turn in compared to expecting guests to find some special welcome area (believe me – they care less about that great gift you promise than you think); and (2) It gives guests something to put in the bucket, so they don’t feel awkward passing the basket by and not putting anything in (yes, that’s motivation to put a card in the basket).

Get your follow-up team ready! If you’ll implement all four of these suggestions, you might find they’re a little busier than before.

Watch for future posts about recommended follow-up practices, and using language in our services that includes the first-time guest. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you.  Email me your process for following up with first-time guests (jwalker@elexio.com).

Jerod Walker began serving as a pastor at the age of 19 while in Bible college in rural Missouri.  Since then he’s served in churches from 35 to 1800, as a children’s pastor, family ministries pastor, and lead pastor.  In 2011 he started Legacy Christian Church in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.  Jerod currently serves as a ministry coach and resides in Wisconsin with his wife and 6 children.