Here are some thoughts you can try – some of these are field tested and some of them aren’t. As my dad always jokes – “every man for himself” on this one.
1) Work to develop a culture of “promptness” and lead time. This begins with you and the leadership in your ministry.
2) Try offering a reward to the first person to turn in their papers (all signed, payment enclosed and ready to go). Give the reward, in public, as you are actually leaving on the event, not immediately.
3) Set up a secure box / folder / or mail slot in or near your office door so that people can drop off payments and forms at any time.
4) If you have the guts, turn a kid away who fails to turn in before the deadline. Hopefully, you wouldn’t have to do this often before they catch on.
5) To the best of your ability, make every deadline worth it. Don’t use up valuable space on the calendar trying to get kids to events that you know who matter all that much.
6) For big events, try a form of intent – something simple that students can fill out and turn in immediately during a regular gathering. From there, email or send a packet of info to their families with that note attached. (They of course wouldn’t be obligated, it just might motivate a little more).
7) Do what you can online – make it easy for parents and leaders to register students.
8) Markers – “If we have this many people going to summer camp, I will dye my hair pink.” or “The pastor will shave his head.” or “I’ll… whatever would be motivating and fun.
9) Don’t publicize the event, just quietly distribute the forms one on one, verbally inviting them and asking them not to tell too many people about it. (This reverse psychology might be sort of creepy, but it would be fun to try).
Any other thoughts? Something you tried that works?