Getting Worshipers in the Service on Time?

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We have a fair amount of new attenders, and a core of long time attenders. We start our services on time, but many often linger in the lobby visiting with friends, getting a cup of coffee, etc.

Some things we are doing to remedy this include ringing a bell a couple minutes before the service starts, closing one of of the doors at each entrance when the service starts, etc. We are also considering a verbal announcement in the lobby, possibly closing the cafe 5 minutes before the service, and having a countdown timer on the screen above the entrance to the worship area. 

Does your church do anything like this? Other thoughts? 

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We are having the same issue at our church, and I will be watching to see what works for others.  We have not done anything as of yet, but would certainly like some good suggestions. I believe it is very disrespectful to not enter the sanctuary on time. 

Hi Gary:

This issue has come up at a leadership meeting at our church as well....it is becoming a common "issue" in many churches.  I recall attending the Toronto Symphony Orchestra playing Handel's Messiah a few years ago.  The foyer lights were dimmed 5 minutes in advance and a soft ring tone could also be heard over the PA system.  At precisely 8:00 p.m. the ushers closed all the doors.  The performance began promptly on time with a brief stop 15 minutes in. It was then that the doors were re-opened, but only once, for latecomers.  It stuck me that evening that the TSO musicians get more reverence, appreciation, and solemnity as their audience gathers than many worship attendees offer as they gather to worship.  Maybe we simply need to close the doors to reinforce the message that we are entering His sanctuary and worshipping His Name.  

Gary

Hi. We use a count down clock projected on screen, set for 5 minutes. At the 1 minute mark the worship team enters the stage and the same time the sound techs increase the volume of some upbeat music that has already been playing in the sanctuary and can be heard in the back where people linger.  At the exact count down of the clock, the worship team begins with their first song which brings the stragglers in pretty quickly. 

We have the same, but different.  Folks just don't show up on time.

Service starts on time and people drift in for the next 5+ minutes.

Admin

Thanks for bringing this up. My church does have the countdown timer above the entrance to the sanctuary and I find it helpful. Also there is music playing that seems to draw people in sooner. I would urge churches to extend grace in this area as there are many who struggle to arrive on time due to a whole array of circumstances. 

Guide

I agree, Staci. It's not right to assume that latecomers are being intentionally disrespectful. 

I was leading worship yesterday and thinking about this thread. Our church is very relaxed about timings (to the point that my father-in-law is very amused every time he visits), and it an attitude I appreciate. I don't think it is disrespectful, I think God welcomes all who come to gather in His name, whether they are on time or not. I would hate to think of churches turning people away at the door because they were a few minutes late - who does that benefit?

Yesterday was our first -25ºC day of the winter. We still had our typical size of congregation. Sure, not so many were there for the first song, but everyone gradually rolled in and by the time we got to the prayer of confession, four songs and a welcome/shake hands into the service, I think everyone was there. One of the last to arrive? My wife and two kids (ages 1 and 2), who had a rough morning but still managed to make it to church despite my not being there to assist due to my musical commitments. I'm glad they made it, and I think God would be too. 

Thank you everyone for our feedback.  Many good thoughts.  I agree that we need to show grace in this area.  I know at our church we have great community and many facing serious medical issues.  Time is spent in the lobby "catching up" which is important also.  When meeting in a local high school in our early years our pastor was able to flash the lights.  Now, however, in our building if we shut off the lights they don't come back on right away.  We have been ringing a bell in the lobby as a two minute warning with some degree of success. We also shut one of the two doors at each entrance when worship begins.

Participant

At my old church (CRC) there was a "host elder" who would stand at the pulpit and make a show of looking at his watch and giving the stink-eye to anyone who wasn't in their seat on time.  Sometimes he would make comments from the pulpit.  Ha!

My new church (a community church), accommodates folks with multiple service times.  They run 5 (five) morning services.  Early risers (14%, ~350 people) attend the 8:25am service.  The 9:45am service is the most popular with 42% attendance.  The sleepyheads (27%) go to the last service at 11:15am.  (Total is 2,000 - 2,400).  More ...

Another thing they do is design the services so that people coming or going aren't really noticed.  The house lights are off for the first 25 minutes.  Between the volume of the worship music, stage lighting, smoke machines (and occasionally pyrotechnics) no one notices.  The house lights are only on for 30 minutes (for the sermon).

My new church is growing fast and for me, it's a breath of fresh air.  No, I'm not a kid.  I'm 58 years young.

Community Builder

Hi Gary! Great question! As a former Worship Coordinator, this was also on my radar and one of the challenges we faced EACH WEEK!  

-Countdowns don't really help (especially if not in people's view) and for our church they became more for the worship team to know when to come forward, which was great!

-We started our service with gathering hymns/songs so when people heard live music, it would hopefully trigger that something was starting. Anything said or did in that first 5 minutes was not going to leave people in the dark or make them feel like they walked into something half over. It was just a time of singing and praising God. Having a live person ask people to come take their seats a few times in between songs also helps (just so they don't think it's a CD or video playing but the service is actually starting!). 

-Because we used to hold coffee before the service as well and outside of the "sanctuary" (we were a church plant that met in a gym), we decided to move the coffee INTO the gym so people were in the room at least! One frustration was that some would still linger in the back and talk (quite loudly at times!) even though someone was up front trying to give announcements or lead the opening/Call to Worship. Again, patience will need to abound! :)

-Hopefully after some opening songs, MOST people will be in their seats. We would then have a time of welcome and announcements, and/or a Call to Worship and so on.

-Sometimes we would have a second 'mini' welcome for those we knew joined us late. For example, have a welcome/call to worship, God's Greeting, 2 Opening Songs, insert Mini Welcome, 1 more opening song, Confession, etc.

-We also made sure people were SEATED for the first portion so late-comers could come in and see where seats were open (or have ushers to usher them). So the opening singing was done seated, as well as the Welcome/Announcements and even sometimes the Call to Worship. If everyone is standing, it's difficult to know where to sit and people will then stay at the far back when there are open pews closer up.

Just like the "theatre protocol" Gary Tamming mentions (dimming lights, etc), it takes time to make those 'traditions' so that everyone is on the same page, but it can be done! I don't think we can herd people like cattle (unfortunately!). Chastising or calling people out is never the answer either. Some people are perpetually late; even to a movie or concert or other outing you'd think they would get to on time. While you'll never have everyone in their seats at the exact time your service is starting, being intentional and CONSISTENT in your plan of attack is always best. Communicate it everywhere: from the front, in the bulletin, in the sermon, in newsletters, etc. 

Blessings to you Gary!

Good thoughts.  Somewhat helpful has been giving a 2 minute warning by ringing a bell and shutting one of the two doors at each entrance.