How churches deal with the challenge of latecomers to worship services

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 fifteen 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.” 

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 fifteen 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 ten 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.

This article was originally published at on February 10, 2020. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and ten grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at