Doing Things Well

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Lovett H. Weems, Jr., advises that churches set high standards, pay attention to details, and do things with quality, rather than doing just enough to get by.


Do you remember McDonald’s slogan “What you want is what you get”? McDonald’s developed this theme for a national advertising campaign to assure their customers they would actually receive what they ordered. To accomplish this, the restaurant chain instituted a double-checking system for each order. The need for this kind of campaign is emblematic of the poor quality of service and rampant mediocrity to which we have become accustomed in recent years. McDonald’s, in essence, made a national campaign theme out of something that people should be able to expect routinely. It is sad that what at one time would have been considered ordinary service is now promoted as extraordinary.

What does this mean for the church? One thing it means is that people are coming to our churches from a society in which they routinely experience incompetence and insensitivity. Sometimes they find at church more of the same. However, this situation gives the church an opportunity to represent higher standards. In the current environment, such a commitment to excellence will certainly stand out, be noticed, and be appreciated.

Quality is Free

The point behind the title of a book by quality specialist Philip Crosby is a simple one. Quality is Free reminds us that, in the long run, efforts to ensure that things are done right do not produce extra cost in money and time. Indeed, quality is free. It is the errors that cost. Just think how much extra time and effort are required to correct a mistake or redo something not done properly in the first place. While time and procedures required to ensure that things are done correctly may appear to be burdensome, they are scarcely comparable to the cost of mistakes.

One case in point is inadequate proofreading. The regularly published collections of mistakes from church bulletins are humorous to church professionals but probably not to laity who endure them weekly. The big question is, “Who is proofreading these publications other than the person preparing them (who is normally too close to be a good proofreader)?”

The cost of inadequate quality control is illustrated dramatically in what occurred when two major pension programs (a denominational fund and a higher education fund) sent out annual statements with errors serious enough to require follow-up letters to all participants. (One program had 66,000; the other, 1,600,000.) The cost of a careful proofreading system would have been minor compared to the ultimate cost of dealing with these errors.

Paying Attention to Details

A design manager for Hallmark Cards said to me one day, “I always look at the corners.” He pointed to the doors in the building where we were. When those doors were painted many years ago, the paint was not properly scraped from the corners of the door’s glass pane. People using that building might never mention or even consciously realize this oversight. However, their impression of the building (and the organization) would suffer because of those corners.

What are the corners in your church that need to be watched? It may be the way announcements are made, the appearance of the restrooms, or the margins of the bulletin. Think of the host of things that shape, in a subtle way, a person’s impression of you or your church. Most of us do fairly well with ninety percent of our work, but it may be the remaining ten percent “around the corners” that will make the difference.

A Relentless Desire to Improve

A remarkable thing happened one year when all faculty, staff, and students at Saint Paul School of Theology had an opportunity to provide evaluations used in the assessment of administrators. It involved a staff member who was less than a year from retirement. In a planning retreat she spoke about one area for growth that had come up on her last assessment and said, “I think I can see some progress.” What was amazing was that her evaluations the previous year had been nearly perfect. Such had not been the case some years before; yet each year she took the feedback seriously and improved in area after area until people had to search for new suggestions. With only a matter of months left before retirement, at a time when many would be coasting, she was still trying to grow. Her story reminds me of cellist Pablo Cassals. When he was interviewed in his nineties, the interviewer asked why, as the acknowledged greatest in his field, did he continue to practice four hours a day. His reply was, “I think I can detect improvement.”

Within the church there is often a tendency to ignore quality concerns and just do things “close to right.” The irony is that in the one place where we would expect to find the highest standards for all endeavors, we may find more tolerance for carelessness.

We would all do well to remember the words spoken of Jesus: “All that he does, he does well.” (Mark 7:37, NEB) The church has often been a place where doing just enough to get by is sufficient. The example of Jesus should remind us of our calling to do all things well.


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About Author

Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr.

Lovett H. Weems, Jr., is senior consultant at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, distinguished professor of church leadership emeritus at Wesley Theological Seminary, and author of several books on leadership.


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