by Josh Bryant
Medical doctors likely have the most complicated and complex jobs on the planet. There are over 13,000 known diseases that can be treated with 6,000 different medications and 4,000 different medical procedures. Despite this complexity, minor surgeries that used to carry a 10% or greater chance of death are now common and relatively safe. Out of more than 50 million operations every year, only 0.3% end in fatality. Of those, 75,000 deaths are preventable. Despite decades of specialist training through college, medical school, residency and fellowships, mistakes are still made.
How does that relate to the church? About 65% of Americans claim to be Christians. Of those, only about half indicate that they are active in church and fewer cite Jesus as a necessity for salvation. For the sake of argument though, we'll say half of 65% (or one third of all Americans) are redeemed. That means there are 200 million people in the U.S. that do not know Jesus as their Savior. In 2017, more than 2.8 million people died in the United States. Do you see where this is going? Two thirds of 2.8 million people accounts for 1.88 million people who died in the US in 2017 that did not know Christ. Over 5,000 per day die without Jesus; since you've been reading five to ten people in the US have died not trusting Jesus for their salvation.
What if as in surgery half of these deaths without Christ were preventable by the church? Almost a million preventable deaths without salvation compared to 75,000 preventable deaths due to surgery. Compare the complexity of how the church works to how surgery works. The story of the gospel is far simpler than open heart surgery. How many souls could be saved if Christians worked as hard to eliminate preventable deaths?
In his book "The Checklist Manifesto", Atul Gawande attributes the decline in preventable surgery deaths to a simple and ancient tool - the checklist. What all does your church do? Routinely there is the task of sermon preparation, worship service planning, staff meetings, Sunday School lessons, custodial work, sound checks, announcements, mission trip planning, outreach, guest assimilation, child care, volunteer recruiting and management, offering collection, counting and deposit, accounts payable, payroll, facility maintenance, bus ministry, food pantry, pastoral counseling, and the list could go on.
How have these things gone wrong for you in the past? Did you forget to tie your sermon into the gospel and share it in such a way that calls the lost to salvation? Did you forget the words to the songs you were leading? Was there a typo in the lesson material you distributed? Did someone fail to take the trash out of the nursery that contained week-old dirty diapers? Did the sound system squeal during the service? Have events not been promoted well? Were mission trips poorly staffed? Did no one invite someone to church? Did a first time guest not get a follow up call? All of us can probably think back on times in ministry in which things like this have gone wrong.
You know the next question - how many checklists does your church have? Most churches I encounter do not have any. The focus has been on policy. Policy is easy. "We report child abuse." That's a good policy. "We clean the entire church weekly." That's another good policy. But relying on policies like this is like a pilot relying on the policy "we start the airplane." Turning on an airplane engine is far more complicated than pushing one button. There is a process - a checklist.
When the checklist is not followed by a surgeon, people die. When the checklist is not followed by the pilot, planes crash and people die. There are times when churches act in a variety of ways that it generates liability. Reporting child abuse is necessary, but if people in the church do that on behalf of the church in different ways without a checklist or process the variables in that process can cause problems. Steps get missed, evidence is tainted, certain calls are not made, and the church finds itself in trouble.
What if the church had checklists? Could we prevent unnecessary deaths without Christ? Could we be a church that is winsome; to which people want to come? Could we be a church that takes steps to mitigate risk and avoid legal harm? This is the power and necessity of process in the church over policy. Learn more about how process can protect the church here!
Church General Counsel Managing Attorney Josh Bryant, J.D., M.Div., authors most of the posts in this section. From time to time, he will post articles from others in the field of church growth, administration, and operations.