Why is the largest Associational Sunday School training event in California?


For details on Equip for Excellence conference, see http://www.equippedforexcellence.org/

If you were to guess, where is the largest Sunday School training event in the nation, where would you guess?

  • Atlanta?
  • Dallas?
  • Houston?
  • Nashville?

Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. The largest Associational Training event that I know of is in California.


You know, California, the buckle of the Bible belt, right?


You know, California, the center of the Sunday School universe, right?

What is happening here?

Every April, 1500 or so eager Sunday School teachers show up from all over Southern California to converge on California Baptist University Campus and Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church. (One facility is not big enough for this event.) The main plenary session is held outside because they don't have a hall big enough. And, it is California--72 degrees year round and it never rains in Southern California.

One other key distinguishing feature of Equip for Excellence is its ethnic diversity. California is an extremely ethnically diverse state and Equip for Excellence reflects that diversity. Red, Brown, Yellow, Black and White, they are precious in His sight.

How do they do it? Well, first of all, let's talk about they. They is nearly always one man. Success is very often the long shadow of one man. In this case, the man is Martin Leach. He works for the Inland Empire Baptist Association and he is the best promoter I know. If I had the money, I would hire him to be my personal promoter.

Let's talk about how he does it. We could all learn a lesson or two from Martin Leach.

First, he puts on an excellent conference every year. The presenters are always the best Sunday School trainers the country has. They are State Convention Sunday School consultants, Lifeway employees, and Ministers of Education from churches across the country. It is always fun to speak at Equip for Excellence just for the fellowship with some of the top Sunday School experts in the nation.

Second, Martin takes care of the details. Success is often in the details and Martin takes care of them all. Every T is crossed; every I is dotted. I even love one detail that Martin includes in the speaker packets. It has a headline, "For those of you who don't like details; read this." Martin knows that many of us don't read all the stacks of detailed information he provides. So, for us he provides an overview.

Third, Martin recruits top-tier keynote speakers. This year's speaker is Thom Rainer. Past speakers have included David Francis, head of Sunday School for Lifeway, Harry Piland (back in the day), and Dr. Jimmy Draper.

Fourth, Martin knows how to cooperate. He gets cooperation from the state convention, Lifeway, adjoining associations, churches and pretty much anyone he can find.

But, the real key  to Martin's Leach success with Equip for Excellence doesn't lie in any of these things. The key lies within Martin himself. We tend to look at a successful ministry and try to copy the methods, the steps, the activities. While that is not an altogether bad plan, it is a failed strategy in this case. If you want to reproduce the success of Martin Leach, you have to become a little more like Martin Leach.

Martin Leach is an encourager. He is a Barnabas like few I have known. I love talking to Martin because he is just always so positive and uplifting. As the scripture says, he refreshes me.

I got a call from Martin the other day, just out of the blue. I was on hold with tech support over something on the land line when my cell phone rang. Since it didn't appear I was going to be talking to tech support any time soon, I took the call. Now I have a phone on each ear. It was Martin. "I just want to call to encourage you, Josh. I think all you do is great. I appreciate all you do as a cheerleader of Sunday School. I want to just encourage you keep up the good work."

Now, if I were a betting man, I would be willing to make a wager. I'd bet I am not the only phone call Martin has made like that. In fact, I would guess he makes many, many of these calls, regularly and constantly.

I will bet Martin often calls pastors to say, "Hey, Martin Leach. How is it going?  I just called to encourage you. I know you are having a tough go these days. I think you are doing a fine job. Keep up the good work."

After a few calls like this, it is not hard to see how this pastor is going to heavily support Martin's training event. Martin's encouragement just makes you want to support him.

I am in a lot of Associations. I offer a $300 discount to churches for involving the Association, or a $300 discount to the Association if they are the ones sponsoring the event. I love Associations.  Most meetings are well attended. Every now and then, I am in one that is exceptionally well attended. If you want to find out why, don't look to the number of flyers or the skill of the graphic artists or the number of email blasts. Look at the relationship of the Associational Missionary with the pastors and people in his Association.

Sometimes I am in Associations were the meeting is poorly attended. The Missionary always blames something else:  "People are too busy," or, "People don't support training any more." What he should be saying is, "I have not developed the relationships such that people will gladly support me."

Here is the lesson. If you are a pastor and you want to grow a church, work on your people skills. Become an encourager. Become a Barnabas.

If you are a Sunday School teacher and you wish to grow a class, work on your people skills. Become an encourager. Become a Barnabas.

If you are an Associational Missionary, work on your people skills. Become an encourager. Become a Barnabas.

If you would like to do some reading on the subject, you might consider these books:

How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie

Become a People Person, John Maxwell

25 Ways to Win With People, John Maxwell

Wining With People, John Maxwell

Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz

The Likeability Factor, Tim Sanders

By the way, I have just started a FREE study of John Maxwell's 25 Ways to Win With People. It would be a great study to go through with your teachers this fall. For details, see http://www.joshhunt.com/25waysIndex.htm