Do something radical: come early to church

Do something radical: come early to church

The advertised time for the church service I am part of is 10am on Sundays. This is not a new time, but is the time our church has met for decades now. Yet, most Sundays, less than 50% of the people who will ultimately be present are there at 10am. Sometimes the service leader stands up to start the formal part of the service and is somewhat discouraged by the sight of many empty chairs. Most people arrive between around 10 and 1015; we usually see stragglers come in anytime up to 1045.

Speaking to friends in other places, I don’t think our church is unique in this. And sure, there can be all kinds of reasons. Most of us will be late due to traffic or an unexpected visitor at some stage. Yet lateness to services is a pattern many regular church attenders fall into. After all, if you miss a prayer and a song, what does it matter? As long as you’re there for the sermon, that is the main thing, right?

Instead of just trying to make everyone feel guilty about their tardiness, let me present a Biblical reason why you should consider getting to church not just on time, but early. In Matthew 20, Jesus has a discussion with his disciples about leadership and service. James and John have asked for a high level of responsibility and recognition in Jesus’ coming kingdom, showing that the desire for ranking and honour is strong even among Jesus’ closest friends. In response, Jesus explains that things shouldn’t work that way in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus himself came to serve, not to be served. He didn’t focus on what others could do for him but came intentionally to serve others. This was highlighted by Jesus’ active walking towards Jerusalem and death when he knew that would lead to death on a cross.

We are called to see Jesus as our model of service. We are to look for opportunities to serve others instead of being served. One place this should be evident is in how we view our Sunday gatherings. It is easy to slip into ‘consumer mode’; we can think of the Sunday worship service as something that we benefit from. We want to come and sing songs we like, hear a sermon we appreciate, and speak with people we know. And I do pray that this does happen a lot of the time! Yet Jesus’ instruction must push us further than this. Coming to the church gathering gives us all kinds of opportunities to serve others.

One easy way we can apply Jesus’ teaching here is simple: pray for opportunities to serve, then come early to church. It’s simple, but there are at least these opportunities and changes that flow from this:

  • Your attitude will change. You won’t be stressed at being late, you can come relaxed and ready to serve.
  • Most newcomers to church services come early because they don’t know how long it will take to park and get there. So there will be good opportunities for welcoming people that you simply won’t get after the service.
  • You will be looking to serve. There are always opportunities, but if you are late, you are no longer looking for them. Perhaps you can help with setting up the room? Perhaps an older person would appreciate a cup of tea and some prayer? Perhaps the cups need to be laid out and the urn turned on? These are all opportunities so easily missed as unimportant when our attitude is only attuned to what we can get out of the experience.

Coming early to church next week will help others in your church family. It may well also change your heart from ‘consumer mode’ to being ready to serve.