3 Steps To Get People In Their Seats By The Time The Service Starts

A worship leader just asked on the Worship Leaders Collective Facebook group the following question:

What things have you and your church done to help get the congregation in their seats by the time the service begins? Looking for suggestions!

The comments began to file in with the usual:

  • Play a live “non-congregational” song just before the start
  • Put a creative element first thing, so there’s something that they kick themselves for missing
  • Use a countdown timer (and teach the kids to shout out the last 10 seconds!
  • Use a video opener
  • Accept that it probably won’t happen
  • Try donuts on a fishing pole
  • Be random to keep them guessing - sometimes play a prelude, sometimes don’t, and vary the order
  • Start the service with the sermon on occasion
  • Appreciate the value of the fellowship in the lobby - that connection might be more needed to individuals than sung worship
  • Incorporate the video announcements into your countdown, and include a little "find your seats, we're getting started" thing
  • Vamp on the opening song for two minutes
  • Sound a church bell signaling the beginning of the service
  • Be consistent and start on time even if there are only three people there
  • Be more engaging and compelling so they won’t want to miss it (because it’s not worth it to them yet to show up for what you’re doing, so improve it)
  • Don’t mention the weather in your opening comments and actually lead them in worship by saying something helpful
  • Get more people from the congregation involved up front during the opening

Honestly, the last 4 comments were my own additions here, but it reminds me of something I learned while working at Starbucks over a decade ago.

They had these “six ways of being” that they wanted all the employees (aka partners) to embody. One of them was “Be Welcoming.”

I loved that they didn’t prescribe something like “greet every customer within 5 seconds of them entering the store.” Rather, it was up to us to help them experience us as welcoming.

How does that apply? What if you did whatever made sense in order to make those coming glad they had? In other words, look, all our congregations are different so there is not a one-size-fits-all answer.

The leader that asked the question (along with many of the responses) seems to be at a more attractional model church, which values a well put together program, an intentional experience where everything is thought through carefully and planned. God is certainly using this model. So if you’re in a church like this, the responses given should really help (if you’re not already doing them.)

If you’re at more of a charismatic church, the big value is just meeting God and making sure that we’re being responsive to His movement. You likely want to start on time just to allow enough time for the unexpected, right? That and to honor the time you’ve been given since there are others that the Lord has given something to share.

If you’re at a denominational church, there’s value in honoring, yet occasionally reinventing traditions, rhythms, and sacraments. I’m pretty sure this is where preludes were invented. And starting on time may not have been why they were invented (rather to give worshipers an opportunity to center and prepare for worship - what a thought, eh?!), but preludes certainly have been helpful in getting people seated in time.

So my answer to how to help your congregation arrive in their seats on time is:

  1. Know the people in your congregation
  2. Know your church leadership’s values and what a win is for the service
  3. Know how to make the people glad they came

Try that and let me know what you notice. 

- Dave