Although there is no chapter and verse that says one must arrive early to worship, this does not mean there are not advantages or benefits. During my business classes in college I was taught that anything less than 10 minutes early constituted being late. The motivation behind this is that it demonstrates what is taking place is important and it acknowledges that other people’s time is valuable. When it comes to corporate worship these factors still apply but there are also others that are important to realize.
- Arriving early prepares one’s heart. One might argue that worship is a matter of the heart, therefore the externals don’t matter. This may lead to the conclusion it does not matter when I arrive as long as my heart is right. I could go into greater depth on the fact that if one is constantly arriving late to worship, then one’s heart is not right because something else is constantly distracting one or coming ahead of the importance of the worship time. However, positively if one is concerned about their heart, then arriving early allows the heart to be more focused on what is about to take place. It allows for time to interact with others in the body, prayer, or simply to sit down and relax for a minute.
- Arriving early allows for greater fellowship. Corporate worship involves the whole body, not simply the individual. Arriving early allows time to share with others and time to listen to what is going on with others. It allows us to shake hands or hug others (public displays of affection where part of the gathering of the early church, ie holy kiss) It allows us to speak with others and hear their needs and their joys. Oneness is a goal in church life, this is difficult to achieve if there is no time to talk and share with one another.
- Arriving early allows for greater service. There are often things that need to be done in order for corporate worship to take place. Chairs may need to be set up, copies may need to be run, a light bulb may have burnt out, the heat may not have come on, doors need to be unlocked and held for others to come it, visitors may need directions to Sunday School rooms. Serving others also prepares our hearts. When we arrive early it allows us to enter into service rather than always being the one served.
- Arriving early allows greater unity. Have you ever felt left out at church? Something was going on and you had not heard about it? Could it be that is because you have frequently missed announcements? Arriving early allows one to hear announcements. Most churches try their best to make sure everyone know about events and opportunities, not to hide them. We often view announcements as pre-worship. However, I believe it has a place in worship. It informs the body about things going on in the life of the body. Therefore, it unites and promotes the work of the church. It also seems that the group that arrives early often has the closeness with one another that many long for in a church. This is difficult to achieve if you simply arrive right as things start or 5 minutes late. Closeness only comes through interaction. Arriving early allows for more interaction of the body.
- Arriving early can create better Preaching and Teaching. Preaching is more interactive than many may think. Pastors feed off the hearers many times. If there are many puzzled looks, a pastor will often throw in an extra illustration or go back and restate a point. If there are many eager hearers, a pastor’s preparation will be fueled, his spirit can be encouraged and emboldened. Seeing a full lobby 10 minutes before time to start or a full sanctuary will often do this. It may be more practical than this. It may allow more time for the Sunday School teacher to complete the lesson because he can start on time. Or it may allow the teacher or pastor to prepare his own heart more because others are taking care of the details that need to be done before worship can start.
- Arriving early allows for better pastoral care. Many pastors are the first to arrive on Sundays and midweek services. They have spent a great deal of their time preparing for these services and anticipate them. They are often eager to see their sheep and hear about their week or simply make sure they are alright.
- Arriving early allows for better parental care. For most of us as parents our number one concern is for the salvation of our children and their spiritual growth. We know that corporate worship, prayer meetings, and Sunday school play a large part in that. Rushing them in, being abrupt with them because of being late, or even the thought that this is not important enough to be prepared for is not teaching them the value of meeting with God and learning about him. Being early also allows for other practical things, like taking our children to the restroom or getting a drink of water so that they don’t have to leave class or worship. It may give parents time to talk to the teacher and see if there are any verses that their child should be memorizing or find out how their children are doing in class.