I was settling into the pew at another church when I noticed it . . . the dreaded Comment Card! I cringed, remembering some of the “constructive criticism” collected on those seemingly innocuous little cards. I once served in a church where we called them A View from the Pew. Church members were invited to express their anonymous opinions and preferences about the worship service and we would try to respond by making changes in worship. Some comments came with kindness and understanding for the intentions and work in planning worship. Some were less thoughtful—even mean.
We (the Worship Planners) had the best intentions for those comment cards: we wanted to be open to more ideas and engage more people in worship planning. But it seemed instead that we became complicit in inviting God’s people to sin. By soliciting anonymous comments without any guiding questions we were promoting a culture of self-indulgence, not encouraging communal conversation. We drew attention to their own desires. We directed them to look inward. We pointed them to their personal opinions. In essence we were asking, “What did you like or not like about the worship service?”
Assessment of worship is more complex than collecting the personal preferences of the diverse people gathered. We could have asked about how the worship service challenged them to holier living or what in the worship service required them to notice and love someone from another generation or what idea they have for worship that increases awareness of the Trinity. But we didn’t.
So we shouldn’t have been surprised when we received some responses that sounded self-serving, and some that contradicted each other, e.g., “I didn’t like the dramatic reading.” And “I loved the dramatic reading of scripture today.” You can imagine how hard it was to respond to those type of comments. We found ourselves less willing to try anything new because someone was bound to not like it. And it seemed that what should have been healthy conversation about the purpose and activity of worship was becoming a guessing game as Worship Planners tried to please all parties.
If, instead, we had a conversation with the people, we might have discovered more details surrounding the opinions about the dramatic reading. Maybe the first person would say, “I just can’t hear the children when they look down and mumble their part of the reading. It would help if someone would teach them how to use the microphone.” That’s completely different than simply being told that someone doesn’t like it. Now the Worship Planners can respond by working with the kids rather than avoiding creative readings of scripture just because they are scared that someone won’t like it.
After discussions with the Elders, we quietly removed the View From the Pew cards in my former church and placed an announcement in the bulletin encouraging members to make their comments about worship directly to the staff or to the Elders. We still heard from people, but the comments were more civil, thoughtful and productive.
My opinion: Anonymous Comment Cards about worship are detrimental to healthy conversations about worship and may even encourage church members to indulge in sinful selfish behavior. Churches can and should find more healthy ways to talk about worship.
How does your church solicit feedback about worship services and what have you learned in the process?