How Churches Should Deal With Latecomers to Worship Service

How do you handle latecomers to your worship services? (Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash)

The attendance will really be low today.

I looked around the worship center two minutes before the service was to begin. The number of people seemed to be about half of the usual attendance. Really strange, I thought.

Then it happened. In about 15 minutes, the number of people present was triple the number of on-time attendees. The worship attendance ended up being higher than usual.

A similar discussion took place at Church Answers, where we have 1,600 church leaders in a constant exchange of questions and ideas. The responses were great. Here is one of my favorites: "We lock the doors at service time so no one can come in late. Everyone has learned their lesson, so we are packed out when service begins."

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He then added, "Just kidding."

Outside of locking people out, how have churches responded to this challenge? Here are some of the more common responses from the Church Answers' community:

—Have a countdown clock. It serves as a reminder of a definitive beginning time. Many churches put the clock on their screens somewhere between five and 15 minutes before the service begins.

—Start on time. If the service does not start on time, you can't expect members to be there on time.

—Ask leaders to set the example. Have an honest conversation with many of your leaders. Let them know your church has the common problem of latecomers. Ask these leaders to be in your worship services 10 minutes early. Others will notice.

—Close the doors to the worship center. That sends a signal the service has begun. But make certain you have someone to open the doors as people enter late. You don't want the mom with three children in tow trying to manage getting everyone through a closed door.

—Begin a worship set about five minutes before the service begins. Some people aren't looking at a clock. They are waiting to hear music.

More than anything, don't stress out about latecomers. Celebrate the fact that they came to worship with others regardless of the time. Some people are more time-conscious than others. I am time-obsessed. I can't stand to be late for anything. My wife thinks any timepiece is evil and unnecessary.

Latecomers are better than no-shows. Relax and rejoice regardless of the time they show up.

It's really a better alternative than locking them out.

Thom S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, an online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Before coming to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for 12 years, where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.

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