A Checklist Manifesto for Ministry

In 2001, there was a critical care specialist at John Hopkins Hospital named Peter Pronovost who became frustrated with the number of central line infections in the ICU. So he came up with a simple checklist of five steps that cut incidence of central line infections from 11% to 0%.

Seeing this kind of success, he started developing more checklists for other problems he noticed in the ICU. One of the simplest checklists was one step long.

Ensure patients are monitored for level of pain every four hours and provided timely pain medication if required.

This one, simple step reduced the likelihood that a patient would endure untreated pain from 41% to 3%. **

In 2009, Atul Gawande compiled a number of these stories from medicine to aviation to show how simple checklists are being used to make these industries and processes more efficient, while minimizing the number of mistakes. He called it The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right.

Chef David Chang of Momofuku fame has heaped praise on Gawande’s work as Chang has used checklists while he expanded his restaurant group to ensure that quality remained high as he continued to grow his business.

I wonder how we might incorporate checklists into the life of the church.

Now, a lot of you might have a first reaction of “Wow. We have found a way to make the church more boring.”

But hear me out.

For church leaders, there is so much static going on in our heads and checklists are a way to help clear that static, clarify communication with our leaders, and ensure that everyone is on the same page moving forward.

For instance, what if we made checklists for:

Checking in with & supporting families following a funeral
Following up after a first-time visit
When families celebrate milestones (births, graduations, children leaving home, etc)
Communicating changes in service times or special services
When new families want to join children’s ministry
Thinking through a sermon/education lesson

Here’s an example of a checklist for following up after a first-time visitor:

____   Ask visitors to fill out communion cards with basic contact info.
____  Send an e-mail the next week thanking them for visiting & introducing myself
____   Make sure they are included on the e-newsletter list
____   Send information about upcoming & ongoing education opportunities
____  2 weeks later: Invite them to fill out a Time + Talent welcome survey & invite questions
____   3 weeks later: Send an invitation to a welcome lunch

The beauty of these checklists is that they can be in a constant state of refinement and tweaking. If you and your team are on the same page moving forward with these kinds of things, there’s no telling what could happen.

And as a bonus, it can help clear some of the disorganized static from our brains. The more of these follow up tasks we can streamline and automate, the more energy we can steer away from these processes and onto other aspects of ministry — messages, bible studies, connecting people to God and each other.

So what ways do you use checklists or these types of processes for ministry?

How could they be helpful and life-giving to the things you and your faith community are doing?

Leave a comment below and let me know! I always love hearing stories of how everyone else is finding ways to do life-giving things in their corner of the world.


** These statistics are taken from _The Checklist Manifesto_ by Atul Gawande.

On Telling Your Children About Egypt

widetableBrothers and sisters in Christ, grace + peace is yours in the name of the one who came to break every chain that binds, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

In the early 1930s, Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr was the pastor at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He looked around the city and lamented the lack of unity he saw among the churches around both Pittsburgh and the country as a whole. So he decided to do something about it. He worked through the Presbyterian church to begin what he called World Communion Sunday in 1936. It was an opportunity for any church that wanted to participate to join their brothers and sisters in the faith around God’s table in remembrance and celebration of the gifts of grace found at God’s table.

Now, to be sure, there were people who were not happy about this. They were not content to share the precious body and blood of Jesus Christ with just anyone. Can you imagine how scandalous that would be? And yet they went ahead with the celebration. It continued year after year. The first Sunday in October became known as World Communion Sunday – where churches all over the world gather around this table, eat this bread and drink from this cup in remembrance of the love and forgiveness of Jesus.

Today is the 80th year that communities of faith have been gathering around the table for just such an occasion: to remember that we belong to something bigger that’s happening in the world.

The story we heard of the first Passover from Exodus 12 and 13 is an incredible story to tell as we celebrate this Sunday. The Israelites have been slaves in Egypt for longer than they care to remember. Every day is just like the one before.

Moses and Aaron keep petitioning Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s heart keeps being hardened. There are 9 plagues sent on Egypt and after each one, Pharaoh still keeps the Israelites enslaved. Until the 10th plague. God tells Moses and Aaron that the Israelites are to take a lamb for each household — and if one family is unable to afford a whole lamb, their neighbor is to invite and welcome them into their home. They will then slaughter the lamb at twilight, take its blood and put it on their doorposts as a sign.

God will then pass through the land of Egypt and kill the firstborn of every Egyptian family — every family without blood on the doorposts. When God sees blood on the doorposts, God will simply pass over that house and move on. After the Passover, this Israelites will be freed from slavery and are then commanded to eat unleavened bread as a way of remembering the God who frees them from slavery.

The Hebrew word used here for Egypt is the word mitzrayim.
The name is derived from the Hebrew word meaning “narrow place.”

So for the Israelites, and all who would come after, the process of leaving Egypt is the process of leaving a narrow place or a narrow understanding of themselves and their place in God’s story for a more expanded or broadened view of God or of themselves or their community.**

Have you ever had an experience where you realize that you were thinking narrowly and then something happens that expands your point of view? A time in your life when you have moved from a narrow place to a wide place? We hear this language in the Psalms often thanking God for bringing us to a broad or wide place. We’re circling around this same quality of God. God frequently brings us from narrow understandings to wider understandings.

For the Israelites, the command comes from God through Moses to remember, then to tell following generations about the time God brought them out of Egypt — out of mitzrayim, out of a narrow place.

I wonder what that experience has been for you. The grace of God has a way of expanding our understanding of God’s love in the world. I wonder about a time when you have sensed God’s grace in a real and tangible way. 

For us, as followers of Christ, it comes to us around this holy table as tangible as the bread we eat and the wine we drink. Though our experience at this table may be intensely personal. On a day like today, World Communion Sunday, we are also reminded of the wideness of this table.

It’s a table that Jesus shared with his disciples, even the one who was about to betray him.

This table, which leads to the foot of the cross into new life, continues our journey to a wider place.

So today, as we join millions of Christ followers around the world in communion with one another, we come forward remembering the God who leads us from narrow places into broad places, from sin into grace, from brokenness into wholeness, from death into life.


** More is covered on this in Rob Bell’s conversation with Rabbi Joel Nickerson in episode 98 of the Robcast.

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