On Worship Structure and Church Tardiness

Most Chinese churches, including my own, are pretty low-church; most Chinese churches’ congregations are also chronically late to worship, Sunday or otherwise. There may be a connexion.

High-church and low-church differences

A low-church worship service generally points to the sermon as the high point, with songs evidently offering the requisite emotional experience for the worshipper to come to the sermon ‘in the mood’, with a heart prepared to hear God speak. A more high-church worship service, on the other hand, is filled with the sense that God’s work (his work in the truest sense) is not localized in the part of worship where the pastor speaks, and God through his sermon.

Of course, every worship service must have a climax, since the Christian faith is marked by the high drama of the events – past, present, and future – that mark God’s work. But he who is serious about holy Scripture may perceive, once it is pointed out, that the sermon is structured to be the centre in importance of the low-church service; in the high-church service, however, the sermon, though important, does not take the same place. This is because the high-church service is structured by the public reading of multiple portions of Scripture that, as God’s word, point both to the centre of the worship service, by means of the flow of worship, and directly to the God who speaks the word. There is often also the element of the Eucharist following the sermon as a ‘flesh’ part to go together with the ‘word’ part.

Connexion between low-church worship and tardiness

A high-church service and a low-church service can then often be characterized thus: in a low-church service, the sermon carries a much larger portion of the weight than it does in a high-church service, because of what the order of worship suggests. Since the sermon is (to my knowledge) never at the beginning, I tentatively make a twofold claim: that late congregants may make pressure to put off the disproportionately ‘important part’ to the time after all but a very few have arrived already, and that this low-church worship structure accommodates and may actually make more people late in the same way that widening a freeway can attract more traffic onto it.

I must acknowledge that I am often late to church, though usually by no more than 10 minutes. I myself, though recognizing that prayers to God and declarations of him in song are integrally part of worshipping the Lord of heaven and earth, tend to see them as more dispensable than the sermon: many times, I simply do not think that I need the whole pre-sermon block of singing, though I enjoy singing and hearing people sing about God and to God. Because I know I have thoughts like these, I think it likely that others do as well. If my expectation is true, it seems a plausible cause for people to be late for church on Sundays.

What do you think? Does this case partly explain why people are late for church?


3 responses to “On Worship Structure and Church Tardiness

  1. Great post, and I think it makes sense. The thought of being late to Tenth makes me cringe.


  2. I agree. When my church service included meditation, confession, grace segments, I was less inclined to be late for service. I felt like I wanted to partake in all of the service.

    Yet, I know the Asians are not usually just late for church. They are late for everything. I have friends who are always late for everything so for most activities, I build an hour buffer.


    • So I think it’d help to change services accordingly. On the other hand, I realize that I’m also making the logical fallacy of begging the question.

      True. We are ‘always late for everything except for every meal’ (sorry, The Sound of Music reference).


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