Which family is yours? Is everyone sitting in the pew before church starts, listening to the prelude music with combed hair, matching shoes, and scriptures in hand? Or, do you straggle in after the sacrament has been passed, dragging diaper bags and children, and stand at the back, scanning the congregation for a place to sit?
If the latter describes you best, don't despair--there is hope. It is possible for a family, whatever the size and in whatever initial state of disorganization, to enjoy all the benefits of getting to church on time every Sunday, which include more than just being saved the embarrassment of walking in late.
"Getting to church on time is an important task for families, especially families with many children and young children," says Shirley Klein, associate director of the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University. "The structure and order of a Sunday morning routine provides a sense of security and stability that promotes the well-being of individuals and family."
Structure? Order? If those words cannot typically be applied to your family's Sunday morning, it's time to give your Sunday mornings a makeover.
Essentially three tasks need to be accomplished on Sunday mornings to get to church on time: Everyone has to be fed. Everyone needs to get dressed. Everyone needs to find the belongings essential for Sunday morning success. Here's how to do it all:
Set the alarm clock. The tasks that need to be completed on Sunday morning involve movements that are as precise as those of the weekday ballet that gets everyone to work and school on time. Time does not expand to the tasks that need to be done just because it's the Sabbath. Commit to getting up early on Sunday just like the rest of the weekdays. (If moms and dads get up several minutes earlier than the children to get ready for their day, everything works better.)
Simplify Sunday breakfast. With seven kids to get out the door during my young married life, I tried many different ways to make Sunday breakfast easier. Finally, I found that the magic formula was Pop-Tarts! Since my children ate nutritious breakfasts the rest of the week, I decided that on Sunday mornings they could indulge in Pop-Tarts and a glass of milk. It was the perfect solution: Pop-Tarts could be served on a napkin, everyone liked them, and they were a treat that urged the kids out of bed.
Designate places for everything needed for Sunday worship. Keeping scriptures in a central location throughout the week not only helps on Sunday mornings but also helps throughout the week for personal and family scripture studies and family home evening. A basket in the living room, a shelf on a bookcase, or any convenient place can serve as the Grand Central Station for everyone's scriptures. One family I know keeps them lined up between the banisters of the stairs, making them easy to grab either going upstairs, downstairs, or out the door to church. (Hint: Put the two-year-old in charge of putting any wandering scriptures away. Two-year-olds love everything to be in the proper place.)
Identify a few rules about Sunday clothes. Each week after church (and before Sunday lunch or dinner can be eaten), everyone should either hang their clothes up or put them in the laundry. That includes Sunday shirts, skirts, belts, and socks. These arrangements will make locating the necessary items much easier the next week. It takes only one lost black sock or belt on Sunday morning to take a house from calm to chaos.
Simplify Sunday meal preparation. To avoid having to put a meal together on Sunday morning, choose one of the following suggestions:
- Make a meal one day during the week that can be doubled and put in the freezer for Sunday.
- Pick three or four simple meals, like roast and potatoes in the slow cooker, which can be rotated throughout the month and prepared on Saturday.
- Depending on your meeting schedule, have sandwiches when you get home and prepare a simple, hot dinner later.
- Use shortcuts. Store-bought rolls and microwaveable vegetables will round out a casserole taken from the freezer. Put leftover spaghetti sauce on noodles and top with cheese for baked spaghetti.
- Expect less of Sunday meals. It doesn't have to be your grandma's Sunday dinner every week.
Make a schedule. Decide how long each Sunday morning activity will take and count backwards from the time you must be pulling out of the driveway to get to church on time. Let each family member know by what time they need to be finished with a particular task. Leave at least twenty minutes extra for minor emergencies like the baby spitting up or a glass of milk spilled all over the floor.
Teach your family the importance of and process for being at church on time. Have a family home evening on Sunday morning preparation. Run drills in which everyone has to find their Sunday clothes and scriptures for a prize. Repeat as often as necessary. Cook part of the Sunday meal as a family and put it in the freezer. Let the one who is ready first on Sunday morning choose the flavor of Pop-Tarts for the next Sunday. That will keep expectations high! Be creative and repeat lessons as often as is needed. Plan a special reward when your family is in place before the meeting begins.
Prepare throughout the week for Sunday morning. Designate one day during the week to iron Sunday clothes and refuse to get the iron out at the last minute on Sunday. Truly use Saturdays as a "day we get ready for Sunday." Pack the diaper bag and other church bags on that day. Make sure everyone has a bath and shampoo Saturday night and has their clothes laid out. Clean up the kitchen Saturday night.
Prepare lessons and talks the Sunday before. This gives you time to review them throughout the week. Postponing talk and lesson preparations until Sunday is a disaster waiting to happen.
Successful Sunday morning routines can also spill over into weekday mornings, with their challenges of finding homework and packing lunches, and can eventually transform a frazzled family into an organized one.
"Whatever stage you are in, a regular routine will give family members a sense of predictability and order," Klein says. "Being on time is one outcome of a family routine that is working well."
However, don't be discouraged if it takes a few weeks to make your Sunday mornings more effective. Punctuality at church will probably not happen overnight, especially if being late has been your family's normal state for a while. Keep trying, and set the alarm clock fifteen minutes earlier each Sunday until you find your family in a pew, enjoying the prelude music.