There are few things more vulnerable than preaching. If you do it right, it is a moment when you bare your soul for the world to see. So it makes sense that you wonder what people think of your preaching. You want to know if your sermon worked. Did God use it to move people? Sometimes you just want someone to tell you that you did great so you don’t feel as awful about your mediocre sermon (we’ve all been there).
Most of us walk away from a sermon we’ve preached with this resounding thought: Validate me, tell me how great my sermon was because I need to feel worthy as a person!
Categorically positive feedback is acceptable from your mom or your spouse. Everyone needs someone cheering them on. But you have to pursue more meaningful feedback from others if you want to get better. You should seek feedback that actually makes a difference. You want the kind that tells you if your sermons are doing what they’re supposed to do – making an impact.
But most people don’t give this kind of feedback naturally. If your listeners are trying to say something nice about your preaching, they generally stick to one of three responses:
- That was a great sermon!
- Enjoyed your sermon!
- Your sermon really spoke to me!
None of these are helpful. They might make you feel good for a minute or two, but they don’t do anything to help you improve.
How do you get more helpful feedback on your sermons?
The key point of feedback you’re looking for is impact. When someone gives you feedback you want to know how your sermon impacted them. It could be something you said. It could be the way you said it. It could be how you set up a point. It could be your application of Scripture. It could be virtually anything you said or did. All that matters is how it impacted them. This is important for you to know because it helps you understand how you’re coming across to your listeners.
Most negative feedback is rooted in miscommunication between what the preacher intended and how it was perceived. The more you can understand how you are being perceived, the better you can communicate to your audience.
You are looking for as specific of feedback as possible so you can get a good grasp on what is actually making impact on people.
To make it simple, try asking for clarification. Going back to my example of the top three responses:
- That was a great sermon! You ask: Why? What made it great specifically?
- I really enjoyed your sermon! You ask: What did you enjoy about it? Why?
- Your sermon really spoke to me! You ask: What part? How did it speak to you?
If you can get them to give you even one point of specific feedback, then it will be far more beneficial for you.
It may be awkward to do this in every situation, but do it as often as you can. It will help you know what is working and what isn’t. To get better, you need better feedback. Sometimes you have to ask for it.
Responding to negative feedback
Louie Giglio says sermon preparation is like labor and delivery. After pregnancy and labor you are committed to your sermon. Delivering it is hard work, but it is so worth it because your little sermon is precious to you. You can’t imagine a world without your sermon in it. So it’s really hurtful when someone says your sermon was bad. Try walking up to a new mother and telling her that her baby is ugly. After you pick yourself up off the ground, you’ll think twice about saying something like that again.
Your sermon is your baby, and sometimes your baby is ugly.
You have to be careful not to take negative feedback personally because it can often help you improve. If your listeners don’t think you can handle it they will likely withhold the negative feedback. You need to give people permission to be honest with you about your sermon even when they have corrective comments.
Without coming across defensive, ask for clarification in the same way you do with positive feedback. Usually negative feedback is more specific than positive so clarifying questions may be much easier for them to answer:
- That was a terrible sermon! You ask: Why, what made it terrible?
- Your sermon made me wish I were dead! You ask: What about it made you no longer want to live?
- I have never heard a more terrible sermon than the one you just gave! You say: I could tell you about some great podcasts.
Finally, when it comes to negative feedback you don’t have to take a beating. If you just preached the sermon you are coming off an adrenaline high and you are in no position to defend yourself. Set up a meeting, give them your email, or politely thank them and leave it at that. Going toe to toe with someone after you preach is usually not productive.
How do you get more helpful feedback?