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.

Please keep your comments positive. I reserve the right to delete rude or insulting comments. If your comment is critical, please make sure it is also constructive. Thank you.

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