Dwight Moss, a friend of mine serving a church in Alabama, has an entry on the Tennessee Baptist Convention website entitled, Really Now! How Important Is Starting Sunday School on Time? Consider reading the whole text of what he has written. In the entry, he shares a question he is frequently asked: “How do you get everyone there and start on time?” This is really not one question but two. Let’s consider them separately.
HOW DO YOU GET EVERYONE THERE ON TIME? I like like what Dwight said: “We deal with . . . people with different personalities and backgrounds. Some people simply do not see the importance of being on time….” In some cases, our best efforts will not change people’s behavior. But in reality, many people do not make it to Sunday School on time because of our behavior and expectations (or lack thereof). If there is no benefit to being on time, why should people show up then? If there are no consequences to being late, then why be early?
Why not provide benefits to being early. How about offering donuts and juice/coffee before class, but put it all up during class. Could early arrivers have some one-on-one time with the teacher? Could games for children be provided before class? Could early-arriving adults enjoy a fun activity related to the lesson that gets their minds thinking about the truth of the day? The consequences of arriving late would be to miss the food, the fellowship, or the fun. Can you think of additional benefits you could provide?
Also, have you helped your attenders understand your expectations? I agree with Dwight when he says,
I think that most of our Sunday School leaders and members will willingly cooperate if we take the time to let them see inside a decision.
Behavior will not change if there is no knowledge of expectations. Help parents remember why they need to avoid arriving late. Dwight said,
Arrival of late preschoolers can trigger tears by those already settled down with the morning’s activities. Many parents (and grandparents) tend to forget this fact.
With adults and teenage drivers, explain why you want to start on time. Explain how the time will be spent, from the first moment. Help them to see what they will miss if they are late. Help them to see the importance of their example. Help adults, teen drivers, and parents of younger students to see the impression their lateness will make on guests. (Remember, guests often arrive early.)
You may find Saturday night calls to your regular latecomers beneficial when you are making the transition. Realize that new habits often take time to form. Affirm those who are on-time. Remember to reinforce being on time privately with latecomers. Let me throw out one caution here. If lateness is only an issue for one or two individuals, don’t make it a public (class) issue. Be brave enough to have individual face time with the perpetual offender.
HOW DO YOU START SUNDAY SCHOOL ON TIME? One obvious answer to getting everyone at Sunday School on time has to do with starting class on time. If class always starts late, no one will pay attention to the published start time. I have often heard the excuse, “I cannot start on time because no one is there.” Actually, the reverse if usually true: No one is there because you do not start on time. It is really a leadership problem. As Dwight said,
If you start on time people will know what is expected and most will start arriving earlier.
Are we being honest with members and guests when w e start lat e? Consider what Dwight said,
We set forth a sense of dishonesty to the visitor if we say we start at 9:45 but wait until 10:00 or until most of the class members arrive to actually get under way. This is extremely bad if we have encouraged lost people to attend Sunday School in order to be exposed to THE truth.
Evaluate what you do early in the hour of Sunday School. Are people coming to class in the middle of announcements? in the middle of prayer requests? in the middle of care group outreach/ministry assignments? Consider moving these to the last 10-15 minutes of class and start the lesson when class time starts. You will find that many adult attenders will not want to enter the class late for the lesson. Make sure you remember to end the lesson with enough time to do this other important class business. Otherwise you may cause hardship for other groups like the choir, greeters, ushers, and others.
How do you get started? Communicate expectations privately if only one or two late arrivers and to entire class if more. You might consider asking attenders to develop and sign a class covenant. Set a date when you want to begin class on time, asking them to arrive early. Send reminder e-mails or postcards. The first week or more, you might have a phone chain to remind all members and guests (probably would gain some absentees). Then, don’t back down. They say that it takes three weeks to develop new habits. Don’t give up. Revolutionary Sunday School demands that we take full advantage of the time we have together as a class.