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The Difference Between Feedback and Criticism



Feedback and criticism are two different things. The difference is feedback can help volunteers improve while criticism tends to devalue volunteers.

Feedback calls volunteers up while criticism calls volunteers out.

Feedback starts by observing volunteers in their role. Look for ways you can help them improve and grow. Then ask them if they are open to receiving some feedback.


Feedback should be a dialogue with the volunteer. Give volunteers margin to reflect on your feedback and share their conclusions about how the feedback can help them. Ask volunteers lots of questions that move them toward self-reflection and self-improvement.

Criticism goes straight to what is wrong. Feedback is sandwiched between two positive observations. Starting with positive observations can help put the volunteer at ease. Then ending with another positive observation helps the volunteer to not go away feeling upset or demotivated.


Feedback can be transformational in the life of a new volunteer. Here are some more tips on how to give good feedback.

  • Give it at the right time. While they are serving is not the best time. Right after they are done serving is better, but still not ideal. The best thing to do is set up a time to meet a day or so after you observed them serving.

  • Be specific about how the feedback will help them grow in their skills and leadership.

  • Helps them become more self-aware. Done well, it will cause them to begin seeking out feedback without being prompted.

  • Be kind. Criticism stings. Feedback motivates. You'll find that people respond well to helpful feedback. Be aware of the tone of your voice. Remember...it's not what you say, but how you say it. Don’t “dump” on a person, if you don’t want them to feel like a dumpster.

  • The most effective feedback is grounded in relationship. When someone knows you care about them, they will be a lot more open to your feedback.


Feedback can be a powerful tool to help people enhance their volunteer role. It can empower people and equip them to improve in their role.


Solid feedback comes from observing and gathering unbiased information. Criticism comes from a place of judgement.

Many volunteers will not handle feedback well unless you help them understand where you are coming from. Help them make the shift to seeing feedback as a gift that can help them improve.


Feedback provides helpful ideas and insights that can help the person improve in their role. It is designed with the purpose of raising awareness and making things better. This is different than being judgmental which can cause shaming and blaming.

Feedback should cause a volunteer to walk out feeling invested in, encouraged and helped. Criticism will cause a volunteer to walk out discouraged and judged.


Feedback is also a great way to help volunteers see their blind spots and improve in those areas.

You can get more tips on leading in children's ministry in my book -

Lead Well in Children's Ministry."


It's available at this link or on Amazon.

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