The Tardy Guest


In an ideal world, everyone would arrive 10 to 15 minutes early for worship. They would greet five people as they walk toward the building from the parking lot. They would grab some coffee, their bulletins, and their seats, and still have five minutes to get settled before the service begins. Their hearts would be ready, and as soon as the first chord sounded, they would be standing with hearts raised to heaven.

If you complain about people when they show up late, you are showing frustration, not love. Love covers a multitude of sins — even tardiness.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. We live in the real world. It’s a world filled with kids who can’t find their shoes, cars whose gas gauges are mysteriously on empty, and hairdos that just won’t behave. And these sorts of things always seem to happen on Sunday morning when you’re doing your best to make it to church on time.

When my dad was pastoring, he asked a friend why he was always late to church. “Sunday is the only day I don’t have to rush around in the morning. I take my time and let the family know we will arrive when we arrive.” He didn’t want to have to yell at his family all morning just to get them to church on time.

Most people try to be on time to the service at your church. And usually your first-time guests arrive early because they don’t know what to expect. So when leaders chastise the congregation when they show up late, you punish people who really do want to be on time. And your guests will sense an unhealthy tension between leadership and the congregation. That’s a horrible first impression to make on a first-time guest.

Am I saying your church just needs to accept that a good chunk of people will show up late? Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try new, creative ways to encourage them to show up early. Maybe you could offer free breakfast foods before your service. Or you could put some of your best material at the beginning of your service. You could have pre-service activities for kids and their parents. There are countless things you can try that offer an incentive to show up early. But if you complain about people when they show up late, you are showing frustration, not love. Love covers a multitude of sins — even tardiness.

Jonathan Malm is author of Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Visitors from which this article is adapted and used by permission. The book is available through Amazon.

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About Author

Jonathan Malm

Jonathan Malm manages and He recently coauthored The Volunteer Effect: How Your Church Can Find, Train, and Keep Volunteers Who Make a Difference (Baker Books, 2020) and The Volunteer Survival Guide: Your Question-and-Answer Resource for Volunteering (Baker Books, 2020). His books are available at Baker Publishing Group, Cokesbury, and Amazon. Read more at

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