By Whitney Clayton
My dad used to tell me some decisions in life were so important, you only need to make them once. He called them once-and-for-all decisions.
Growing up in my family, attending church on Sunday was a once-and-for-all decision made by my mom and dad when they were 19 years old, married for less than a year.
My dad loves to tell people he has never heard his children ask in a whining voice if we were going to church in the morning. I never questioned whether we would go to church, because that question had been answered a decade before I was around to ask it.
On Sunday, we go to church. Decision made.
But some Sundays are harder than others to go to church. Sometimes the whole things feels stale. Or the pastor seems like he’s in a bit of a slump. Or maybe you’ve heard about that new church your friends started attending where everything is perfect.
In those moments, when going to church starts to feel like more of a chore than a choice, I want to give you some pastorly advice about how you can refresh your heart toward the act of attending church.
I believe one simple change can revolutionize your Sunday morning experience: get there a little early and stay a little late.
Showing up to church 15 minutes before the service starts and hanging around 15 minutes after the service ends can make all the difference. Here’s how.
1. Your worship will be more impactful and your pastor will be more insightful than ever before.
If your family is like mine, you are probably struggling just to make it to church on time. The few times you actually get to church before the service starts, you are worn out from hustling through morning routines of showers, breakfasts, and sibling fights.
Running late after finding your 3-year-old’s shoes in the pantry, you start your frantic, James-Bond-in-a-chase-scene drive to the church, where you have to shuffle your kids through a parking lot full of similarly frazzled churchgoers hustling their families into the building.
By the time you sit down in the service, you need five minutes just to get your heart rate back to normal. That is not a great way to enter into a worship service.
If you routinely hustle into church right when the service is starting, your heart is not in the place it needs to be in order to receive from God.
When Jesus connected with the Father, He went away to a place of solitude and silence in order to meet with God. A calm heart is fertile ground. And fertile ground is easy to tend.
2. You will make new friends at church.
If you arrive early for church for three weeks in a row, you’re going to meet a lot of the same people in the hallways and at the coffee stand each week.
And instead of the cursory nod as you both hustle into the service, you will have time to hold a meaningful, memorable conversation with someone.
There is a small chance one of you might actually give a real answer to the questions you ask.
“How are you today?”
Hustle-talk answers, “Fine.”
Real-talk answers: “Well, I am sweating like a beast and pretty proud of myself, because I just herded all my kids through the parking lot and into this building without cussing out loud once. How are you?”
You will struggle to build friendships in the church if you are always hustling, always frazzled, and always running in as the service starts.
Come early, stay late, and you’ll find a number of new friends waiting for you the next time you show up at church. And nothing will change your church experience like arriving to find friends waiting for you.
3. You will find a place to serve.
When you arrive 15 minutes early to church, most everyone you run into will be serving in some ministry, and when you talk to them about their ministry, you’ll hear something you can’t catch when you’re in a hurry.
You will hear excitement, because most people love serving their church. That excitement is contagious, and if you make it a point to be around the people excited about serving their church, you’ll find a place that excites you, too.
Going to church every Sunday is important enough you should only make the decision once. But every Sunday you still decide whether you will give space in your day to love God and love others or whether you will keep slipping in and hurrying out, wondering why church isn’t meaningful to you. Setting the alarm a little earlier will definitely serve your heart a lot better.