I found the question to be captivating. There are so many issues at play that the question is worthy of consideration. Is the official, printed or verbal, start time when Sunday School begins? Is the real time when when the first person shows up or the majority? Or is it the time when everyone has arrived? Or could it be the time after fellowship, announcements, prayer requests, and prayer? Could it be that the first Sunday in September (or “promotion” Sunday) is when Sunday School begins? Perhaps an even better question is when did Sunday School actually end in order for it to begin (isn’t it really ongoing)?
Wow, so many questions and so little space! Jean Preaveaux wrote the original article, When Does Sunday School Begin?, that started my thinking. Jean is a preschool ministry consultant for the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Her first statement in response to the questions is the following: “We could easily answer this by saying ‘on time.'” There are some ways in which that answer is good. We certainly don’t want to begin late. But in other ways, just being “on time” is inadequate.
I believe in “total period teaching.” In other words, attenders (from preschool through adult) should have opportunity to begin learning from the moment they walk into the learning space. We should be teaching by room arrangement, by greeting, by posters, by what is written on the board, and by assignments given to the learners when they enter. Total period teaching builds expectancy into the experience, communicates about our preparation as teachers, and shows the importance of every moment we have with attenders.
While Jean is focused upon children in her article, many of her principles apply just as much to adults. I am going to replace the words child and children in the following paragraph with the words adult and adults. Jean says:
Starting Sunday School with the entrance of the first [adult] shows that [adult] that he or she is very important… It lets the [adult]…know that they can expect you to be there and be ready. It gives the teacher quality one-on-one time with this [adult] and sets in place a positive scene as other [adults] arrive. They see that things are already taking place, which presents a setting for them to come into the room and get involved immediately.
Teachers should be in place early, before any learners arrive. These are important teachable moments that can also strengthen relationships with attenders and the teacher. They are too important to miss! Arriving late can also mean the room is not ready and resources have not been gathered causing even less opportunity with members and guests.
In my definition of Sunday School, it is a ministry that includes teaching time when the class gathers on Sunday but is much larger than that time. Even teaching and learning continues between Sunday morning encounters with assignments, reading lessons, personal Bible study and prayer, and application of God’s Word. Relationships continue with planned and spontaneous fellowships, calls, email, and personal contacts through the week between the teacher, members, and guests. Sunday School really is a 24/7 ministry.
When does Sunday School begin? It already has. Let’s make the most of it. Let’s help others get the most out of it. Be revolutionary!