How to Handle Late Team Members


4 Tactics to Tackle Tardiness 
By Jon Nicol

We all have them. Shoot, some of us are them: latecomers, slackers, tardy worship team members, stragglers, the “unprompt.”

Whatever word we use for them, they haven’t arrived yet to hear it. And besides the chronically late person, many worship team members who are prompt for other events in their lives think nothing of showing up late for worship team rehearsal. Why is that?

It’s a team culture thing.

I’ve been working for a while to change the culture of lateness in my team. I can’t say we’ve arrived, but we are light-years ahead of where we once were. Here are four simple tactics, or practices, that I’ve used. While these tactics are simple, they aren’t easy or quick fixes.

When it comes to changing a culture of lateness, it takes a lot of time and intentionality. The good news is, you can begin implementing these practices this week:

1. Start on time.
Begin rehearsal at the posted start time. Period. End of sentence. Many times, we allow the latecomers to dictate our start time. This makes it worse: eventually, people who would normally be on time begin coming later. Why? By not starting on time, you’ve essentially given them permission to be late, too.

Whatever you need to do to make rehearsal begin on time, do it—even if only half the team is there. Will it be awkward? Yep. Will it accomplish much in the way of practicing music? Probably not.

But if you do it every week, you will send a clear message to those who are late. And you can bet that those who are prompt will appreciate that you’re respecting their time.

2. Change your language.
I refer to our “Start Time” to “Ready-to-Play Time.” I’ve communicated to my team verbally and on the schedule that we need to be ready to rehearse at our posted start time: instruments on, music pulled, guitars tuned, sound tech ready to check.

I used to post a start time that was 15 minutes before I really wanted to begin. I thought I was sly. Forget it. My tardy team members figure that out and arrived even later. And again, what was I saying to those who showed up early so they’d be ready to play? “Thanks, but your time isn’t important.”

3. Assume the best.
Sooner or later, you’ll have to have a conversation with your late-arriver. But it doesn’t need to be a big, hairy confrontation. This is a brother in Christ, so assume the best. Approach him with something like, “Hey Phil, I’ve noticed you’ve been coming in late to rehearsals. Is everything OK? Is there something I can do to help?”

You’re kindness will help quell the defensive excuses that would normally emerge if you had just “gotten in his face” about it.

4. Apply social pressure.
Have you ever been out to eat with a group and noticed that the last appetizer from the sampler platter lingers alone for a while, sometimes never to be eaten? Yeah, that’s social pressure. No one wants to be that guy who takes the last buffalo wing.

Social pressure isn’t a bad thing to leverage on your team. We’re not talking about an all-out Amish-shunning here. Sometimes just the act of walking into a rehearsal already in progress is enough for some people to reverse their tardiness.

But you’ll have others that will need to be confronted. Besides assuming the best and coming from a place of wanting to help, apply a little social pressure. It can be effective to gently point out that he’s not just showing up late for a rehearsal, but he’s disrespecting the other team members and actually robbing their time.

You might even consider asking one of your team members to join you in the conversation. Sometimes hearing the hard truth from a peer can be more effective than when it comes from a leader.

Eventually, if you have a habitual offender who shows no sign of changing, you’ll probably need to ask him to step down from the team for a while. It could hurt musically to lose him. But the morale and relational health of your team is at stake here.

As you start implementing these ideas, don’t get discourage if nothing seems to change. The ingrained behavior of a team can take some time to change. Remember, these are not quick fixes. But over time these practices will help you change the culture of lateness in your worship team.

Jon Nicol (@jonnicol) is a worship pastor in Lexington, OH where he lives with his wife, Shannon, and their four kids. He created to help worship leaders build great teams. His latest free resource is a video series called 5 Barriers That Block Great Worship


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    14 comments on “How to Handle Late Team Members

    1. One thing I am becoming more and more aware of is personal responsibility. So many people in the world want to place blame on why they are in the situation they are. We all want to blame the government for the current economic situation, or we were late because of traffic, or someone else got the promotion at work because they were friends with the HR manager. No matter what, we all fail to look to ourselves when we are looking for a reason for small or big failures in our lives.

      Tardiness in worship team members will only happen if WE allow it. It is just that simple. As the worship leader it is in our control whether we let it continue or not. It is nice to have these steps you suggested in taking care of it calmly and without a major confrontation, but if they occur more than once then the fault is ours and not the tardy team member because we did not correct the situation from the beginning.

    2. After living for many years with one I love who is often late, I have recently done research to see if there was something I could do to get us places on time – or even – early! What I have learned is lateness is similar to mental illnesses and addictive behaviour! It is as hard to overcome as is weight gain or smoking. There are six or so possible root causes to lateness one of which is “magical thinking” where a person just does not have the capacity in their brain to accurately measure the time it takes to load guitars in vehicle, travel, unload and unpack, set up and tune. Unlike me who is gifted with the ability to arrive in my kitchen to hear the timer go off for a pan of brownies, some of our loved ones are as lacking in that gift as some of us are blessed with it. It IS a problem for the team for sure, but please major in love – even for the tardy.

    3. Mark, I appreciate your thoughts on personal responsibility. And I agree, if as a leader I ignore the late offense, then it is my fault. But when it comes to leading volunteers, I’m not sure I agree with you that correcting lateness is “that simple.” I suppose if I took a hardline approach that might be the case, but there’s an inherent messiness when it comes to working with volunteers. They aren’t employees. They’re giving of their personal time. We can challenge people towards higher standards and to live up to the commitments they made, but the reality is that they don’t always reach that standard at the pace we want them to.

      But, Mark, you’ve given me something to chew on. Thanks! Anyone else have thoughts on either side of this.

    4. I have also been dealing with this issue for years. My passion is to glorify God first, and then to “do everything as unto the Lord”. Granted, music is my passion (I am a worship leader), but I believe some have the attitude that it’s “volunteer”, as though that’s a reason to not make it a priority. No one makes anyone be on the worship team. If God has called them to this, and they have accepted it, I believe they should recognize what their responsibility is. The musicians in the old testament were well trained. I don’t expect my members to be as trained as I am, but I do expect their heart to be in it enough to give more than their left overs. We all have things come up that we can’t control–that goes without saying. It is, as you say, the habitual ones who don’t seem to realize that they are representing God, and setting an example in their attitude, as well as their “performance”, for lack of a better word. It’s not “just church”! Leading people to God is the most important thing we can ever do in our lives. When members are habitually late, it takes away from the quality of the “performance” by distracting as they come in late, irritating team members (we have to overcome that), and just keeping us from getting “in the Spirit” as a team. Satan is already working ahead of time, so, as team members, we need to plan ahead and do as much as possible to be in the right spirit when we arrive and stay in the right spirit. I always start on time, and I rarely go over something twice for late comers. I believe as you, Jon, that these people haven’t even thought about how it wastes the others’ time. I love every one of my team members! This is also something that seems to go in cycles, just like everything else, including me. Thank you for bringing up the subject!

    5. I agree with Jon there is an inherent messiness when working with volunteers. I do also appreciate that sometimes people have things going on in their lives that also make them late for activities. It is important to when you decide to talk about this (and sometimes I’m the late one and realize I cannot be wasting other’s time) to do so lovingly – “If you’ve a lot of stuff going on and need to take a break do so and please, you are welcome when you’re ready to be on track again.” We need to support our volunteers especially when we expect them to give their passion in every worship service. Being on time is part of their support to the group, when I am excited about sharing and love doing this I am on time, even early. Ready to go!


    6. I think that, at times, there is blame to be shared. If a praise team member is late (one time or consistently), is it “their fault”? Absolutely. But if I, as a leader, haven’t clearly and consistently communicated my expectations, is their behavior, or at least their failure to correct it, also my fault? Absolutely.

      I think this communication of expectations comes in two forms: what I say, and what I do. I can tell Brother Jim that practice starts at 8:00 until I’m blue in the face. Maybe to him, that means “Be present in the building by 8:00.” If I don’t say what I specifically mean (i.e., at 8:00, we will begin playing our first song) I can’t blame him for not meeting my expectations. Furthermore, I can even say the specifics ’til I’m blue in the face (well, more blue than I already was), but if my behavior (i.e. the time we start playing that first song) doesn’t match my expressed expectations, I am in fact still not telling Brother Jim what I expect.

      Now, once I’ve communicated my expectations, if Jim continues to be late, that’s when I think I need to consider, as a leader, whether this habit of lateness reflects a deeper issue, and should confront Jim in love and understanding (so maybe “confront” is not a good word.) But I know that I, personally, have gotten frustrated with people not showing up on time, but when I really stopped and thought about it, I realized I didn’t have the right to be upset, or even to reprimand them, because nothing about my prior communication with them had enforced my expectations for their arrival time.

      But as a team leader, not a team boss, I definitely think that my role is to encourage useful behavior and confront destructive habits – not to order good behavior and punish the bad. It’s just a matter of toeing that line…which is an extraordinary challenge, so praise God for providing grace and wisdom.

    7. I like the terminology of “ready-to-play-time” rather than “start time”. In regard to same: I, also, found that even if I posted the ready-to-play-time as 15 minutes earlier than really wanting to begin, there was no appreciable difference – the early members just milled around or began more in depth conversations with other early birds still waiting on the tardy (now 5 minutes early to actual time) to get prepared. My solution was to change the time, not by 15 minutes, but by 1 minute. There is something psychologically challenging to us to hear “ready-to-play-time is 7:29am” rather than 7:30am. I found I had a better response with just the minute change. And this goes for youth meetings, choir rehearsals, senior trips (where they need to hear “the bus is pulling out at 7:14am”, rather than 7:15am. Try this…but be diligent in pulling out at 7:14 and not a minute later.

    8. I do agree Mark that a lack of personal responsibility is an infectious disease that most of our society has and I will agree that as a Worship Leader, I am ultimately responsible for how my team reacts. However, I do have to agree with Jon that when working with some volunteers there will be some degree of change needed. I think to expect a late offender to never be late again after one time is a little bit too much of wishful thinking. We could accelerate through all the steps mentioned above, but then we put ourselves in a position of saying if the volunteer violates again and we did everything in our power then we must part ways. Seems a bit extreme for me when working with volunteers. I like where you are coming from though Mark, don’t get me wrong. The responsibility for “not accepting” tardiness is on us as leaders and not conditioning members to feel that tardiness is acceptable. I’m just not sure it can’t be solved after one time, feel free to pass over additional info of what you do in these situations Mark, I would love the help. Thanks!

    9. I agree with you completely. I typed up a very in depth commitment packet with purpose statement, vision, expectations, times, their own personal self evaluation of their bible knowledge, prayer life, worship and intimacy times, and musical abilities and all these backed with scriptures and God’s expectations of us. I had them sign it and told them a signed contract means you agree with everything in this packet and will follow to the exact and if they ever felt they weren’t living up to the standards they vowed too, to please volunteer to step down until they could fully commit as to not bring disunity to the team as a whole. We want to see lives changed and saved and all to enter the holy of holies and the Word says, “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” I dont volunteer to be a servant of God at my convienence, I am a full time child of God.

    10. Has anyone ever tried putting a policy in place that you don’t play or sing that morning if you don’t show up on time for practice? People that are habitually late for everything in life do seem to get their kids to school on time and get to work on time (or they wouldn’t have a job). It seems like they just aren’t taking worship seriously enough. I know this doesn’t apply to every situation, but based on what I have seen over the years of being on worship teams it seems like its always the same band members that are late every week 10 or 15 minutes… if they know they are always late by the same amount of time each week then it seems to me that they need to set their alarms clocks 10 minutes earlier. I don’t mean to be harsh but these are the same people often that if you told them they wouldn’t be allowed to sing or play they magically have the ability to show up on time. So I’m curious if anyone has ever implemented a policy like that on their teams and what was the result?

    11. YES. I needed this. Luckily, I’ve only had this issue with a couple of adults, who I’ve approached but the tardiness continues. The Youth worship team I mentor, however….wow…. I’ll definitely be implementing these ideas in both areas of the worship ministry. Fantastic.

    12. What do you do if the person who is always late is the worship team leader? It’s kind of hard to start without him especially if you don’t have a song set yet.

    13. It really doesn’t matter if the praise team members are volunteer or paid, if they have excuses for being late or if its a personality trait. Those are all excuses when you look at the bottom line. Its about serving and using your talents and time for God. God expects our best and He certainly gave us His and still does. He shows up with His anointing in the worship service on time every time. People are careless and lazy. Bluntly put but true. They should be held accountable for their actions. I’ve led worship over 25 years and few people give God their best in their promptness.

    14. Worship team volunteers tend to be:
      sons or daughters
      wives or husbands
      neighbor lovers
      law abiding citizens
      Their worship team involvement lies a nice godly second, third, fourth, or fifth to these other things. Life is messy. Start your rehearsal with prayer. For them.

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