Singing to the Chairs

church chairsScene: The worship leader steps up to the microphone on Sunday morning to greet the congregants. “Good morning, everyone! It’s great to see all…12…of your smiling faces today. Some folks are evidently running late, but hey, even Jesus started with only 12 disciples!” A mild chuckle escapes a few lips, while the worship team stands awkwardly. “Let’s all praise the Lord today! Sing with me…”

I posed a question on the Women In Worship Network, asking for others to share what their church does to open the service. After a few responses, someone mentioned that only 1/3 of their church shows up on time. Then a long list of others chimed in that they had the same problem in their church. Then I confessed: I was looking for more ideas to solve the same problem in my church.

It seems there are many churches that have tried various means of beginning the service in an attempt to encourage people to be punctual. When most of the congregants are regularly arriving late in many churches we have a real issue that needs to be addressed.

What is the real problem?

Possible Reasons:

  • Wrong mindset. We don’t value the time of worship. Why not?
  • Bad product. If there is a good product, the people will come.
  • Laziness. We are not talking about someone who shows up late occasionally because he had a flat tire on the way to church, but someone who is tardy week in and week out.
  • Leaders fail to teach the importance of respecting God, others, and even the visitors.
  • Christian is lukewarm?

Our Actions Send a Message

When we walk in late to the service it sends a message:

  • To God. “This time is not very important.”
  • To Pastor. “I don’t have to obey your authority.”
  • To Congregants. “I don’t care if I’m an interruption.”
  • To Visitors. “This church is not worth me showing up on time.”


Maybe we need an ouch.

The leadership of my church has been occasionally addressing this issue from the pulpit and we have seen an increase in punctuality during those times. I know this is a strong post, but we need to realize that this kind of problem can be a major hinderance to going forward in God. There is power in unity.

Let’s talk about this. What do you think the problem is? Does this problem happen in your church, too?

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Photo by jdbradley (Creative Commons)

12 thoughts on “Singing to the Chairs

  1. Hi Kelly, a couple of thoughts.

    1) John Maxwell says everything rises and falls with leadership, so leaders have to do practical things to encourage a culture of “being on time.” If the culture has historically been late or has an uber casual starting time, then people will arrive “whenever”

    2) A “countdown” before worship begins can be helpful. If the leaders consistently say something about it for a season – “we’re going to change our culture and start precisely at 9:00 am” I’ve seen it improve.

    3) If the “product” is the problem (often it is) decide what changes should be made.

    4) Some people will always be late …. no matter what.

    • Hi, Rob, thanks for your thoughts! I think that the leadership should do anything they can to help alleviate the problem, and then ultimately those who come are going to need to make a decision.

  2. I grew up in a country church in Nova Scotia. Our family was very involved and always tried to be early. The music wasn’t fantastic, the preaching wasn’t always dynamic.People served. From the poorest to the richest. It was THEIR community. There were other churches available in different denominations within a ten mile radius. Those who chose to come, came to give.I guess to me it is a matter of the heart. When I hear people talk about the “product”, I think of Jesus and the 12 and the dust and the heat. We gather by choice in obedience and humility to glorify God together. In this day and age the competition is fierce for attendance.People seem to want to take away something more than want to bring something. I think the question everyone has to ask is WHY do I go ? Who do I serve?
    Spectators vs Participators.Takers vs Leavers. It’s a heart issue.
    These are great questions. What I know to be true is this:
    Man looks on the outward, God looks on the heart.
    We can honor with our lips and our hearts are far from him…and yet…
    His mercies are new every morning !

    • I think the same kind of community you described can be found in most any church. It’s the whole body of the congregation that has captured my attention. It is a heart issue. Yet those in leadership will teach every one who will listen and receive. We are always going to need adjustments in our thinking, and I hope that even in this the whole body can work toward unity.

  3. I have an entirely different reason not listed: no matter how hard I try, getting 3 boys under 5 out the door and to church on time is so much more complicated than it sounds. 😦 It has absolutely nothing to do with lack of wanting to be on time or the amazing leadership at my church. It’s just so.dang.hard! We’re working on it and it has gotten so much better. 😉

    But, I will say that our church has A LOT of grace about coming late. What’s most important is that people come. Some have scheduling issues with work. Some have problems with punctuality in general. While I certainly agree that we should make our corporate worship a priority, I also feel that what matters most is that we COME together to be together and worship together. My church has a 45 minute worship service, so even if you miss the first song, you still get a lot of good communion time with Him. I love that. I also feel that if you have problems getting to church on time, its likely a punctuality issue in your entire life. Be open to the Spirit’s prompting to how you can work on that.

    Great discussion, Kelly.

    • I understand trying to get the boys out the door and to church on time! My husband and I have to go early, but he has to leave earlier and in a separate vehicle. He’s not a morning person, so I don’t ask for his help on Sunday mornings. It took years to get a routine down. You may benefit from my next post; I’ll be sharing all my tips on being punctual. Thanks for sharing, Keri! 🙂

  4. I know that some people condemn me because I am not good with my finances. BUT, they are the same people that don’t seem to realize that their coming in late to church is as wrong as other things they condemn in others. Worship time is not for us. It is not for us to just sing pretty songs and then get into the real stuff. We should all come into church with our hearts happy and excited that we get to BRING in the presence of God by our praise and worship. The Bible says that God INHABITS our praise … he is IN our praise, he LIVES-sets up a habitation- in our praise. That time is set for HIM and HIM only… we’re not there to hear how great each other sings.. it is to worship Him and then He comes down in His fulness. Our worship team is great. They all love the Lord and you can tell it in how they strive to do well in the instrument playing and in the songs they choose and their singing. I love it when I look on the screen and see that the next song is written by Justin and Kelly. I am excited and want to sing harder and louder because I know they love the Lord so much that this song is from their hearts. They did not just write down words, but this is a song the Lord gave them to worship Him and share with others. Sometimes we need to hear the Pastors, or someone from the congregation tell us about what it means to be on time for worship, so that those who may not understand that their children are watching them and thinking … oh, Mom and Dad don’t think it is important to get to church on time and it’s ok to have fun on Saturday and get up late and get to church late… what does it matter??? That is how children see it, and how they learn it and so worship of the Lord does not matter. Church does not matter. Sometime we need to read again of all the times when the congregation got together and how the Lord came down and met them and was there in a mighty way. Look at when the disciples came together in ACTS after Christ was gone up into Heaven. WOW! talk about a time when God came to a worship and praise service!.. He even brought a mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire. WHOA!!! i come to worship and praise my God. Shame on those who do not, because they may be causing the rest of us to not get God’s best. (oh, yeah, I am working on the finances and listening to the Lord and His letting me know to work on my diligence and other stuff… Diligence. That is also a good word for being on time.)

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Carol. I think folks don’t always realize that their example (however lacking) is showing. I think some people may never have thought of it the way the leadership addressed something before they “heard it that way.” We are all works in progress. If someone hears the truth and works on it as he goes along, as you have, then great. We don’t know where in the process someone is while he is working on the issue. And we always need to extend the same grace and mercy the Father does towards us. 🙂

  5. I have noticed that the more informal church is, and the more freedom a church is wanting in worship, the more lax people are about being punctual. Don’t know if there is a correlation or not, but perhaps some confuse freedom with laziness?

    Also, I like Rob’s points. Especially the last, some people will just be late. As leaders, we have to be real careful we don’t start judging.

    In our church, we had the same problem and were beating our heads against the wall. We finally realized that we had basically 3 different groups of people: the “core”, who were early-ish but tended to be more task-oriented and cliquish; the “middle”, who were faithful and were settled in time for worship; and the “margins” (bad label), who came late and also tended to not be the ones who helped out a lot. Then we began to adjust how we discipled.

    Our core group we treated more like the 12. They usually attended more of the classes and trainings, so it was easy to instill the following: “You guys are great and such a support in ministry. We need you to take the next step and really incorporate more people into your groups and activities. Make time before church to visit with people, as well as after.” etc

    The middles: “You are so faithful and we commend you and appreciate you. We need you to take the next step and come about 20 minutes early to help greet, set-up, whatever.” etc

    The margins tended to be the group that came on Sunday morning and maybe Wed night. For those we just began to teach about basic “citizenship” -looking out for others, respecting service, etc.

    Of course, this is all just a nutshell. But the basic idea. And it worked. We still had people who were late, but as a whole, we were starting to bring each group to the next level. Plus, our understanding and patience increased. Lateness by some didn’t irk us like it used to, or distract us.

    I think this is the longest comment I’ve ever written 🙂

    • Great thoughts, Kate! I do wonder if some confuse freedom with laziness. Our job is to point them to truth. The pastors at my church said, hey, we want you here on time. We want a corporate anointing, we want unity, we want you with us, we want you to receive everything you can when you come…so come on time. When some of the reasons for various people’s lateness began to surface I could see that sometimes people need to be adjusted in their thinking. An example comes to mind: a lady was coming for only 1/2 of our 90 minute service because she works Mon-Fri and wants to sleep in on the weekends. Sleeping in on Sunday on purpose is not helping her spiritual growth. After the church was encouraged to make an effort to be on time, she started coming on time.

      When people can be punctual to movies, their job, and doctor appointments, then we should honor our God in the same way.

      Like you said, each group of people is going to need a different approach, but to start with the entire church was addressed on this issue. 🙂

  6. Enjoyed the post. Being on time to church, in itself, is a form of worship. I know of some churches that have coffee fellowship and/or prayer 30-60 minutes before worship service – and that seems helpful. Anytime we deal with people (and that is ALWAYS), we deal with our fallen nature- imperfection. It’s a leaders job to compel and model worship is all facets. Once a congregation realizes that THEY are all leaders, they begin to understand the importance of worship is all things. Thanks Kelly

    • Thanks for sharing, Scott. I agree that being on time to church, in itself, is a form of worship. One thing I keep chewing on regarding this subject is that every church has it’s own culture. Ed Cole said, “New construction is easier than reconstruction. It’s easier to obtain than to maintain.” We can apply that to this subject. That being said, I think the change comes when we live a life of worship with everything we do. Not everyone understands that. Prayer for all to live in that revelation is key.

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