Is Being Late to Church a Sin?

Recently our creative planning team and I have been chatting about ways we might be able to encourage our people to make the extra effort to get to church on time.

Here is a summary of that discussion…

  • It’s really hard as a worship leader/team to kick off a service when it’s the preacher and just a few people sitting there ready to go, especially at the 5pm service
  • We really do not want to use the first worship song as a throw away/filler song as people are arriving
  • Many of us don’t arrive late to school, uni, a sporting fixture or a movie. Why do we treat church differently?
  • We jokingly discussed giving the ushers cattle prods to gently encourage people to go in during the count down, however it’s hard to prod them if they are not even there!
  • Maybe we should start the service with communion (that might just work!)
  • Having said all that we are thrilled that people turn up to our services. We are well aware that things happen on the way to church and the reality is that church is the last place that the enemy wants us to be.

From this meeting I went away and did some reading, trying to discover what other churches do and I came across this great article by Samuel Mills.

In it he lists 3 reasons to get to church on time, and these would be the 3 that I would choose to highlight. Of course there are many more. So I’ve summarised his ideas, contextualised them, and here are 3 reasons why I think it’s a good idea to get to church on time…

1. To meet new people

Test me on this one. Arrive 5 minutes before a service starts and take a look around. New people are never late. So this presents an awesome opportunity for us to welcome, love on and meet the new people who have been courageous enough to visit our church.

The other thing to do is put yourself in their situation. Imagine what it would be like if you and your family are the only ones, besides the worship team and the senior pastor sitting in the auditorium at 5pm. It would be like, “what’s going on at this church? No one comes here?” Do you reckon they will come back? Thank goodness it slowly fills up!

However imagine the opposite! You have been greeted by some people, the auditorium is full and the church is ready to focus on Jesus and worship. Chalk and cheese hey?

New people are never late!

2. To encourage the encouragers

This one is super important. I’m not sure whether you know that there is an army of people who rock up early to make sure that your worship experience is a great one. Let me highlight one team, the worship team. The worship team’s prep starts on a Monday night where they pray, they encourage each other and they practice together. Then throughout the week they personally practice the songs, hone their craft and memorise the lyrics so that they know the songs. Then on a Sunday they are here at 7am to get ready for the 9am service and then back at 4pm for the 5pm service. They sacrifice a lot for God and to serve us.

When you are here ready and raring to participate and lean into the worship, the community time, the reading and preaching of God’s word everything is so much better. As a preacher of God’s Word there are people in our congregation who I love preaching to because they are friendly, they nod, they take notes, they lean in and I can tell that they really want to hear from God.

Bottom line is when you are there and you are participating its encouraging and it makes us better.

3. It shows and sets your priorities

I love going to the movies. I love getting lost in someone else’s story. Often God speaks to me through movies. An interesting thing that I have noticed about going to the movies is that it is very rare to see someone come in late. When there is a new release often we line up well before the scheduled start and we make sure that we are prepared well in advance, smuggling in contraband so that we don’t miss a minute and get robbed by the theatre candy bar. We are even willing to sit through 20 minutes of Mrs Morgan advertising!

What is it about us that on the one hand we will do all of that for the movies or a sporting fixture, but on the other casually rock up to church 10, 15, 30+ minutes late? What makes that ok? Why do we treat church differently? Is it because it’s a grace filled place and they have to be gracious? Is it because you’ve paid for the movie? Is it because church is boring and predictable and there is a sense of obligation? The reality is that every service you go to, you are one Holy Spirit encounter away from growing in an area that needs redeeming, one prayer away from that miracle, one revelation that has the potential to completely transform your life. Movies are powerful but Jesus is way, way, way more powerful and I don’t want to miss out on one minute!

I don’t know about you but how we choose to spend our time reveals a lot about our priorities. Show me your diary or planner and very quickly I will be able to tell what is important to you.

So is it a sin to be late for church? No of course not, but I would love you to have a look at your arrival times over the next few weeks and to think about the positive benefits of arriving ahead of time… Everyone wins when you’re here early. New people are met, you encourage the encouragers and it says something to your family and the people around you about what’s important. See you on Sunday at 8.55am or 4.55pm.

– Rod