Then, all of a sudden, magically and as if tele-transportation, room will fill up. Usually by the time the second song begins at the start of the worship set, I look out and I see that the room is almost totally full. Where did they all come from? Why did they come 15 minutes into the service, rather than at the beginning of church?
I have actually witnessed this same phenomenon in so many of the churches that I have lead that I have come to expect it. People arrive about 15 minutes into the start of worship, rather than coming right at the beginning. As I have thought about this interesting dynamic, there are several reasons that come to mind.
First, Sundays are hectic times for families, and traffic can, even in California, be a bit unpredictable. Loading everyone into the car can be a challenge.
Second, sometimes the welcoming team gauntlet in a church can be daunting. Especially when you are feeling a bit tender or depressed, the last thing you want is to encounter a zillion people before church. If a person knows that they have to make their way through three greeters, a smiling hand shaking pastor, and then another set of greeters at the front door, they may say to themselves, "What I really want is to worship God, not be glad handed on the front step, so I will come late."
Sometimes people like the anonymity of coming late to a church service. There is a certain joy in being able to just slip in late and leave a little early. I will never forget one man who came to the movie theater in Paso Robles for worship. He would arrive just before the message, and he would leave just after the message. He sat in the darkest corner of the church, so that no one could see him. I will never know his name, but I will also never forget him. From that man's experience I developed a theory about outreach - Anonymity is the key to evangelism, not friendliness.
But as I have observed people coming late to church for many years, I have come up with another basic theory.
People Know What They Want
A person coming on Sunday knows that, most of all, they want a personal connection with God. They want one on one time with God. They want:
* A message that is concrete, clear, meaningful and helps them in their lives
* A time to connect one on one with God in prayer/song
* A communion time that is a personal connection between them and God
What they don't want:
* To meet a lot of strangers who seem overly friendly
* To drink mediocre coffee
* To sing praise choruses or hymns from a choir that sometimes seem redundant
* To hear a lot of announcements
* To be told by a congregant, "I haven't seen you in a while, everything ok?"
* To have to sign up for an activity that makes their already busy week more busy
* To sign a welcome pad or a card
People Know What They Want
This isn't to say that worship music isn't important. It's also not to say that announcements and welcome cards don't play an important roll. Also, people need community with one another, it's just that that can't be manufactured in any kind of artificial way.
If you are leading a church where people tend to come late to worship, I encourage you to see it as a good thing. Don't beat people up for coming later. Don't change the time of worship to meet their needs. They are coming for the important parts of worship - parts that are important and helpful for their lives. And hey, at least they are finding something real in your church
All For Now,