Updated: Jan 16, 2019
I attended a church for the first time recently and found myself running a bit late. On my way, as I approached a signal light in the left turn lane, I found myself behind a string of cars waiting to turn onto a street with yet another light and then another string of cars. All were headed to the same church I was going to visit for the first time and in ONE MINUTE, all were going to be late. Each of these late-arriving attenders still had to drive another couple of minutes, park, walk to the building, and then make their way to a seat in a large worship area.
I can’t say that all these late-arrivers were first-time guests, but I know some were. I was. And if one, there were (and each Sunday morning there are) others. Lots of others.
From a guest perspective, lateness can be considered damage control. It is a way to reduce the uneasiness and stress of walking into an unknown environment and dealing with the many creepy things that might just happen. The shorter the time, the fewer the exposures to those creepy possibilities.
Besides, what is the fun of showing up ten minutes early and sitting in a mostly empty worship (Yes, it happens!) on an uncomfortable pew and watching church announcements ad infinitum scroll across the screen. "No, not happening!"
And just like that, late-arriving first-time guests can completely discombobulate your perfectly ordered ministry to them on a Sunday morning!
Take for example the guest that scurries into a seat in the second song of your worship time; it’s 10:08 AM and the guest is 8 minutes late. STUFF has happened: got a late start, couldn’t find a parking spot, didn’t know which way to go with their three-year-old because the Greeters had already closed-up shop, then they had to fumble their way unassisted into a seat in the crowded and darkened worship space.
Because of his late seating in worship, this guest has already missed the pre-screen announcements, the platform greeting of guests, and the request to complete Guest Registration. In effect, much of the in-worship guest relation process has been missed BY THE GUEST.
Neither the church nor the guest will reap the benefits of those important and well-intended plans.
How many of these fallouts would be true in your church for the guest that, for whatever reason, is 8 minutes late? And what other fallouts might be true?
Certainly, no slap on the wrist of the late-arriving first-time guest offers a remedy. But maybe there are some things that might be in order to improve your guest relations considering the tardiness issue.
Insure that the church is not unintentionally contributing to the late arrivals of first-time guests.
Are all your public communication systems (signage, online presence, voice messages, social media, etc., up to date regarding your start time?)
Is your parking adequate for the volume of cars? Is it easy for guests to find parking at the last minute?
Is church signage clear? Can a guest find your location, know where to park, identify the appropriate door to enter, and locate your childcare.
Are in-house services like childcare registration and hospitality and refreshment services speedy and accessible?
Are Greeters on hand (even after the service starts) to assist the late arriver? Are Ushers available to help locate seating (even after the service starts).
Insure that communications directed toward first-time guests are presented when the first-time guests are actually there, i.e., available to hear them. Anything presented prior to start time and within the first couple of minutes whether on the screen or from the platform ( e.g., announcements, welcome, greeting, guest registration) will be missed by the late-arriving guest. Consider ways to incorporate those important guest messages later in the service, even with repetition if presented previously.
Make sure you have an Exit Strategy that is effective. Removed from the last-minute crunch to get to a seat (i.e., after service) first-time guests will likely be more open to check out a Guest Information Booth or entertain a friendly conversation from Greeters on their way out the door. I remain convinced that the guest’s Exit is the most under-prepared aspect of guest ministry in the church and because this is the precise moment guests are evaluating their experience, there is no better time to make a good impression, especially with the late arriver. Check out this previous Blog for more information on Exit Strategy.
Always start on time for the benefit of everyone that is on time.
It is safe to assume that we are not going to fix the mindset of the first-time guest that aims to be conveniently late. But what we can do is recognize the pattern and work with it (around it) to achieve the highest level of ministry efficiency possible.
In the end, getting information to your guests, providing a genuine welcome to your guests, initiating connections with your guests will be to everyone’s advantage. Late or not, each guest should have these opportunities.
Have you noticed the late arriving guest pattern? I would be interested in knowing what your church has done to yield efficiency in your guest ministry, even when guests are late. Your comments are welcome below.