We’ve written a lot about checklists. We’ve explored why checklists are important, how they work and what their implementation in ministry can actually look like. However, it’s important to look into the anatomy of a checklist. A great deal of research has gone into checklists and every checklist are by no means equals. There are good checklists and there are bad checklists. Let’s take a look at the differences between good and bad checklists.

The following items make checklists bad:

  • They are vague
  • They are too hard to use
  • They are too long
  • They are impractical

Checklists that try to spell out every single step treat people using them like they are dumb. These kinds of checklists turn people’s brains off rather than turning them on. Remember, a checklist isn’t a user manual or instruction book.

The following items make a checklist good:

  • They are precise
  • They are efficient
  • They are easy to use
  • They are practical

Checklists cannot fully execute the task at hand. Rather, checklists remind the user of the most critical steps and tasks. Even the most seasoned professionals make mistakes and checklists exist for this very reason.

Research has taught us a lot of things about checklists and how to make them better. When crafting a checklist, remember the following items:

  • Checklists need to be short. Experience tells us that between a minute or two, the checklist becomes a distraction form other things. People start taking shortcuts and things get missed.
  • Focus on the most critical items. Don’t include every step, just the ones that are most dangerous to skip.
  • Make the wording clear and simple. Use a clean and easy to read font, ideally keeping the entire list to one page.

So when it comes to your checklists, it’s important to consider a few ideas.

Clarify what you need to provide for a volunteer to be successful. Every volunteer needs training and instruction. A checklist doesn’t replace this. Remember, pilots are highly trained specialists. Surgeons spend years honing their craft. Yet checklists only supplement what they already know. Your staff or volunteers need to know how to do their job. They need to be trained first. The checklist is then a resource to help them get everything done right.

Identify your killer items. We have a tendency to be too detailed. We want to make sure that EVERY step is followed. A complicated checklist will only frustrate the user and they’ll end up straying from it. Figure out what the most important items are and include them on your list.

Identify every one of your pause points. This is critical. What’s a pause point? Great question, we’ll cover that in detail tomorrow!



This post is part of a larger series on moving your ministry forward using the often neglected tool - the checklist. In this series, we unpack how a system of checklists can actually help us take our ministry to new levels. Plus, we want to share dozens of actual ministry checklists you and your team can implement right away. Click on the link below to explore this topic and pick up some helpful resources!