My passion is Sunday School. Almost weekly, I will get a call from a pastor who says something like, my Sunday School is not growing…can you help?

eyeOver the years, I have responded to this question in many ways. Early on, it was to look at the numbers and challenge them to set goals for classes, enrollment, attendance, teachers, teacher being trained, and analyzing space. Lately, I have come to realize that nothing changes unless the pastor…the director…the staff…the teachers…and the members ultimately SEE Sunday School Differently.

START was originally planned to help churches lead their classes to catch a vision for planting 1-5-1 Harvest Branch plants. But in my opinion, it has become much more. It is a tool, a strategy, an emphasis to help you as a Pastor or Minister of Education lead your church to SEE Sunday School Differently.

This is why it is the first session of the training module. Few 1-5-1 Harvest Branch Plants are started unless your church sees Sunday School differently. Seldom do our Sunday School classes move outside the walls of the church to conduct mission projects unless they see their class differently. Most Sunday School classes have very little lost people in them. Why? because of how they see their Sunday School. Significant growth will not happen unless you lead your church to SEE Sunday School Differently.

The old adage says that as the Sunday School goes, so goes the church. How you see Sunday School will decide how the church goes?

Call me…email me….I would love to dialogue with you about Sunday School and how START can re-energize your Sunday School.


Posted in 1-5-1 Harvest Plants, Evangelism, START, Sunday School | Leave a comment


We celebrate fathers this Sunday. And I can’t think of a better father than my DAD!  He truly STANDS TALL!

My wife and I had the privilege of watching a pre-screening of the movie, When the Game STANDS TALL*. In the movie, Coach Ladouceur states, “Winning a lot of football games is doable. Teaching kids there’s more to life? That’s hard!” My dad certainly taught me there was more to life than just earning a paycheck or winning a game.

My father taught me to win at life. Growing up, dad was the hardest worker that I knew. He got up early in the morning, loaded his Colonial Bread truck, and worked each evening until the work was done. When he retired, the local Sonic placed on their sign,  Dad 86th birthdaycongratulations to Mr. Colonial. Everyone in my small town, knew Dad had earned it. Today at 86, he still works hard taking care of the Laundromat he purchased when he retired. The willingness to work hard and to give it all you got are vital to winning at life. Thanks Dad for teaching me to work hard!

He served his church as the Sunday School Director for 35 years, earning multiple Eagle awards for growth. At night after a hard days work, he would read the latest Sunday School training books, Sunday School leadership magazine, and earned His Sunday School Leadership Diploma. He constantly participated in association, state, and national training events. He didn’t just give a Sunday School report on Sunday morning…he embraced serving and leading the church to grow through Sunday School. He stills attends his Sunday School class regularly. Thanks Dad for teaching me to importance of education and for my passion for Sunday School!

Dad loves his family. He demonstrates love to my mom every day even though some days she wonders where her husband is and what happened to him. Thanks Dad for teaching me to Love!

Thanks Dad for your example on how to win at life.

*When the Game STANDS TALL was inspired by a true story of Coach Bob Ladouceur and the DeSalle High School Football team. What an inspiring and encouraging film. Join me in praying that God will use this movie to touch the lives of young men and women all across our nation. It comes out in theatres on August 22.

Posted in Christian Life, Discipleship, Stories, Sunday School | 1 Comment

Wake UP the Sleeping Giant! (#START)

My dad taught me to love war movies… In the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora!, the Japanese Admiral, Isoroku Yamamoto, responded to the Pearl Harbor Bombing with the quote, “I START_Logo_FINAL_BUTTONfear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” It is time to wake up the sleeping giant called Sunday School.

In Tennessee, I estimate that our Sunday Schools are made up of over 40,000 Sunday School classes, of which 23,000 Adult groups and 5000 are Youth groups. What a sleeping giant! My prayer is that God will wake this sleeping giant and fill the Sunday School with a terrible resolve to see Lost people SAVED!

Sunday School is not just another organization of the church. It is the church organized for growth and ministry. But, many Sunday School classes are resting…they are simply teaching those who show up, praying for those who show up, and ministering to those up. Sunday School is not supposed to be just a ministry to those who show up. Sunday School is supposed to be the Outreach and Evangelism arm for our churches. WAKE UP!!!

Take a look in the mirror. Does your class need to wake up? Does your class lack purpose and direction? Does your class have a passion for seeing lost people saved? If not, wake them up…see the fields that are white unto harvest. Challenge your class to become a 1-5-1 Sunday School class. A class that becomes burdened to see people get off the road to Hell and on the road to Heaven. Get your class outside the walls of your classroom, start a 1-5-1 Harvest branch plant, work and pray that God will allow your class to see 5 people come to know Jesus and baptized, and then multiply!

If you are pastor or Sunday School Director, wake up your Sunday School. Join us in re-igniting the Sunday School as a movement not just a program. I can’t wait to see what God is going to do. New people will be reached, more people baptized, more churches started, more leaders equipped and sent out, and more lives changed. To God be the Glory!

START was written for pastors to wake up their Sunday School. TN pastors locate the mailing that you received with the START DVD and planning Guide. Call me or email me. START will work, but nothing happens unless and until we START!!!

Posted in 1-5-1 Harvest Plants, Evangelism, START, Sunday School | Leave a comment

Harry Piland’s Impact

I just tweeted: Ridgecrest reminds me of the legends that have impacted my life and ministry such as Harry PIland.  Harry served First Baptist Church in Houston as the minister of education before coming to the ImageBaptist Sunday School Board (Now Lifeway) as the Sunday School Leader for Southern Baptists.

For those of you who did not have the privilege of knowing and leaning from Harry Pland, let me share how he impacted my life.

The first time I met Harry was after a worship service at Ridgecrest at a restaurant in Black Mountain.  The year was 1985. I had just graduated from seminary and had accepted the call to serve as the minister of education and youth at Markham Street Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.   My wife and I were attending our first Sunday School Weekend with my mom and dad.  At that restaurant, Dad introduced me to Harry Piland.  From that moment forward, Harry never forgot my name.  He called me by name.   I was a nobody  just a young minister of education in a medium size church in Little Rock, Arkansas, but he knew my name.  What a remarkable gift?

During those years, I soaked up every book and every conference  on Sunday School, Church Growth, and Discipleship.  My home church pastor and mentor, Hoyt Wilson, had told me that was the best education that I would get.  So I diligently earned Study course awards for every age group and program. I even have a WMU Study Course Award.  One of those books was  Growing  and Winning through the Sunday School.  What a great book?  In this book, Harry unpacked his nine basics of Sunday School growth:Image

  1. Make a Commitment to Grow
  2. Identify and Enroll People
  3. Start New Units (Classes)
  4. Enlist Workers
  5. Train Workers
  6. Provide Space and Equipment
  7. Conduct Weekly Workers Meetings
  8. Conduct Weekly Visitation
  9. Teach the Bible to Win the Lost and Develop the Saved

I can promise you these basics still work, even weekly workers meetings and weekly visitation.  In fact, Georgia has done research that verifies that the churches who do these things are more evangelistic than the ones that do not.  These principles have never left me.

In 2000, I became the State Discipleship Leader for Tennessee.   Our state team had a meal with Harry where he made a statement that has impacted me.   He said, “Mark, when the equipping centers* came out, our attendance in Church Training at FBC Houston increased greatly, but I watched as the attendance began to dwindle, because people started choosing rather they were coming back on Sunday Nights to Church Training based on what was being taught instead of the group.”  Today, most churches do not have a weekly, ongoing Discipleship Training Ministry and many churches have given up on Sunday night worship as well.   This statement impacted me significantly.  I believe that what is taught in Sunday School is absolutely essential and is a hill worth dying on.  Sunday School must stay an open Bible Study group where the Bible is the textbook.   If Sunday School teachers are allowed to choose their own curriculum and people start choosing rather they attend on Sunday morning based on what is being taught,  in twenty years, we will lose Sunday School as well.  This is why I believe in curriculum and resist using short term studies, even great studies like Experiencing God in Sunday School.

Harry Piland was a man that impacted my life and my ministry.  Thank you Harry for  giving to the Lord.  I am a life that was changed.

*(Equipping Centers were short term studies that were the first major alternative to dated curriculum for church training, now discipleship training.)

Posted in Christian Life, Organization, Stories | 1 Comment

My Indonesian Adventure

I recently returned from a trip around the world.   Literally, we flew from Altanta to Los Angeles to Japan to Singapore, finally arriving in Bandung, Indonesia.  On the way home, we flew from Bandung to Singapore to Frankfurt to New York, finally arriving back in Atlanta.   It was a trip around the world.   I wish that I could have spent several days in each city, but the purpose of the trip around the world was to visit my daughter and son-in-law who are teaching at the Bandung Alliance Christian School.

Truthfully, until son-in-law proposed to my daughter and they were married last summer,  Indonesia was not on my bucket list of places to visit.  What a beautiful country… a country with over 17,000 islands, volcanoes, mountains, and beaches.  It is also the country with the largest muslims population in the world.  Each morning, we woke to the call to prayer at the local mosque.   My daughter and son-in-law are very careful to respect the customs of the muslim world and we were sent some simple do’s and don’ts prior to coming.  Pray for their work at the Christian School and for their ability to be a witness for Christ in this world that they have chosen.

Indonesia is a diverse culture and on our trip we spent three days on the island of Bali.  Unlike the island of Java, the people on Bali are primarily Hindus.   We witnessed the peoples of Bali, provide the daily offerings on the many altars and spelled the incense that was offered as a pleasant aroma to their god.  At a cooking school hosted by a local Hindu family, the husband gave a major evangelistic presentation on Hinduism.  It was very enlightening presentation.

As I reflect on my trip, it was a joy to see where my daughter and son-in-law live.  They are doing a great job learning the language and building relationships with their neighbors.  The trip gave me a real taste of world religions.  May the people in Indonesia and in America come to know the only God who loved them enough to send his only Son so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

Please pray for my daughter and son-in-law and for the nation of Indonesia.

Posted in Christian Life, Discipleship, Ministry, Stories | 2 Comments

Life Still happens at Christmas

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!   Growing up, my mom and sometimes dad loved to sing Christmas songs as we returned from shopping in Memphis, Jackson, or Nashville.  Christmas is my favorite time of the year.   I love the decorations and the lights.  I reserve Black Friday for decoration day. While everyone is shopping, my family is decorating.   I love the parties and food, and believe that every group or class should have a party not just at Christmas but every month.  I love the music and the programs.   But the greatest thing about Christmas is the message and hope that Christmas brings.

At Christmas, many churches participate in Advent.  Advent means anticipation. And at Christmas we remember and anticipate the Messiah’s birth.  John says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  It is why we sing Immanuel, “God With Us.”  This simple fact gives those of us who know Christ a peace that passes all understanding, a hope in the midst of life’s storm. and the ability to deal with life’s valleys.

As I write this blog article, I am in the Critical Care Waiting Room in Jackson, TN.  My mom is in stable but critical condition.   Even before this, I was dealing with the fact that my daughter and son in law would not be able to be home for Christmas this year.  Life can rob us of the anticipation of Christmas.

It is in these times that I wish every person in TN and the United States was a member of a Sunday School Class.  Even in the midst of the lights, sounds, and parties of Christmas, Sunday School classes still call, visit, bring food and care for their members.  In Sunday School, you will find a loving group of people who will remember you and love you.

Remember: Don’t miss the anticipation of Christmas even when Life Happens.  “Joy to the World…The Lord Has Come!”

Posted in Christian Life, Discipleship, Ministry | Leave a comment

Read the Bible for Life

David Green, pastor at First Baptist Church in Greeneville, Tennessee, was asked at a conference for Sunday School leaders, “What his church was doing in the area of discipleship?”  One of the resources that they are presently using in their discipleship ministry is Read the Bible For Life.  When David was sharing, I became excited because I believe that Read the Bible for Life is one of the most significant emphasis and resources ever released by Lifeway.

This resource was written by Dr. George Guthrie, Benjamin W. Perry Professor of Bible at Union University in Jackson, TN.  Dr. Guthrie shares on his website, “Over the past two
decades I have become increasingly concerned about the state of biblical literacy in the church…biblical literacy has more to it than merely knowing Bible trivia.  For instance, it concerns reading the parts of Scripture well and understanding the “grand story” of redemptive history.”

Read the Bible for Life initiative, seeks to foster:

  • an understanding of how to read the parts of Scripture well,
  • a perspective on the Bible as a grand story God has written on the world,
  • a grasp of the themes of Scripture that thread their way powerfully and beautifully from the beginning to the end of this book of books, and
  • sound application of the Scripture to modern-day life.

The Read the Bible for Life initiative is a whole-church initiative focused on growth in biblical literacy.  As the Disciple-making Team Leader for the Tennessee Baptist Convention, I would strongly urge every church to join First Baptist Church,
Greeneville in offering Read the Bible for Life.  Consider the following actions:

  1. Offer the nine-session group study (READ THE BIBLE FOR LIFE: LISTEN. UNDERSTAND. RESPOND) as a foundational experience for the whole
  2. As a church, read through the Bible chronologically in a year, as the pastor preaches through the highlights of the Bible’s grand story year.

Two resources are available to encourage every member to use day-by-day  as the church reads through the Bible together: READING GOD’S STORY: A CHRONOLOGICAL DAILY BIBLE and/or A READER’S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE.

Call or e-mail me at the Tennessee Baptist Convention for questions about Read the Bible for Life or strengthening your discipleship ministry.  For additional information, the Read the Bible for Life website is

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment