Last November I presented a paper at the Academy of Homiletics and received several important pieces of feedback from persons in the audience. As I finished re-writing that paper for publication last month, I couldn’t help but reflect on how important it was to receive that feedback in November. The paper (now a chapter in a book) was significantly improved due to this feedback.
As preachers, I wish that we could get such feedback, but in my experience, such opportunities are few and far between.
There are several types of sermon feedback. The most common is immediate and informal: a comment in passing at the church door, or sometime later that day. One way to improve this kind of feedback is to create a few questions designed to improve these moments of serendipitous sermon response.
The second type of feedback is content-based and designed to encourage active listening. In some congregations, an adult Sunday school class before or following worship, or a sermon blog or Facebook page is linked directly to the sermon. Another option is to build feedback into a sermon preparation brainstorming group or sermon roundtable. In this collaborative preaching model, we can receive feedback from a small group concerning the previous week’s sermon. At the same time the group is invited to “feed-forward” information regarding what you might preach next Sunday. This tends to broaden the scope of feedback and increases ownership of the preaching process by those involved.
A third type of feedback involves sermon-coaching. We can seek out a mentor or homiletical coach, perhaps even engaging a group of experts or peers who will provide feedback on every aspect of our preaching. This approach is best if we are striving to dramatically improve or transform our preaching.
A fourth model of feedback exists as part of a congregational study. When a congregation is going through transitions, it is possible to conduct interviews with focus groups and key individuals of different ages, races, and social backgrounds in the congregation in order to determine key patterns, expectations, and issues among sermon listeners regarding the pulpit. We can then make appropriate adjustments.
The final form of feedback is self-feedback. We can always make good use of audio and video technologies to listen to and watch ourselves. Regular self-analysis helps us to catch bad habits as they are forming, modify gestures, pitch, and intonation that have become predictable, and work on a range of problems related to sermon organization, language, and style.
In my opinion, receiving sermon feedback is absolutely crucial to improving our preaching and increasing the involvement of listeners in the sermon process. For more on sermon feedback see Best Advice for Preaching, and Preaching Words: 144 Key Terms in Homiletics.