by Vicky Kaniaru & Norm Miller
CLEVELAND, Ga. (TMCNews) -- Twenty years ago, Hopewell Baptist Church in Gainesville, Ga., had about 30 active members on a roll of about 200. Today, 2,500 members call Hopewell their church home.
That's because the double-handful of members called Robby Foster to be their pastor two decades ago and embraced his vision for the church.
"God gave Pastor Robby that vision," said Audrey Early, Hopewell's secretary of communications. "And the people had the faith to follow it. We have been moving forward consistently ever since."
A Truett-McConnell College trustee, Foster leads a church that is "mission-oriented, vision driven, excited about worship, and strives for accurate teaching and preaching of God's Word," he said.
Foster attributes the growth to "just preaching the truth." People are drawn to the church's stand on God's Word and by Christ being exalted, he said.
Early in his pastorate at Hopewell, Foster initiated an extensive evangelism and missions thrust. One such effort yielded 260 conversions to Christ in a 10-day period.
"We baptized 165 of those people," Foster said, who noted the church still baptizes about 150 people every year.
Pastor Foster also led church members to reach across the oceans and around the world, where, to date, they have planted 72 churches in countries such as Mexico, Africa, Moldova, Russia, and India.
Expanding from "just a small family church," Hopewell reaches people in seven counties, said Foster, who added, "If you don't want God to enlarge your cost, never pray the Prayer of Jabez."
Providing an exemplary discipleship model, Hopewell has indigenous missions leaders in every region to serve the planted churches. In many of the regions, Hopewell also has a church-based Bible college "to train up pastors" who will "get out into the field and plant more churches." The colleges utilize a curriculum called the Bible Skills Institute, a two-year program founded by Moody Adams.
"We've seen the enlargement of our boundaries and the dynamic of the community changed because [the church] has influenced people coming from all different areas," Foster said.
Hopewell's vision is "advancing God's kingdom one heart at a time through prayer, mentoring, and missions," Foster said. "Our people understand that vision very well, and the reason we continually state the vision is because we want our folks to move from just coming to know the Lord to being on mission with God, no matter where it is."
Foster believes in missions in the local church and adds that Christians should not just send money to missions organizations, but should go themselves.
"We go to a lot of places nobody wants to go—to the unreached people groups," Foster said. "God just placed it in our hearts and gave us a vision that the sun wouldn't set on our ministry, and so that's what we're trying to fulfill."
As for TMC, Foster said the school is leading Christian education for Georgia Baptists: "The college is paving the way for training ministers and missionaries who are effective in ministry. Every Georgia Baptist should feel good about sending their children to Truett-McConnell," said Foster, whose son, Josh, is a TMC student on the golf team.
Foster said his role as trustee is to "get the word out about what God is doing on campus, and to pray for the school. I'm excited about seeing a vibrant school in North Georgia. If it's doing well, our churches are doing well."
His hope is to see TMC "expand and become a university, where students can not only earn a bachelor's degree, but also a master's and a doctorate."
As Truett-McConnell continues to grow, Foster added that it must "be focused on the Lord, and remain biblically centered. That's the appeal; that's the draw. God is going to honor that. He's going to honor his Word," said Foster, who added that he wanted to become a trustee of the college because of Dr. Emir Caner, TMC president.
Foster said his spiritual role as trustee is to pray for the college and support TMC President Emir Caner's vision. The president's vision is to see kids "grow spiritually," said Foster adding that while other presidents are focused on numbers, Dr. Caner has a desire to see students impact the church.
Addressing TMC students, Foster advised, "Get your education, and train in an institute that will train you up for God, spiritually. If you're constantly striving to do what you want to do, you're going to run into nothing but frustration. But, if you're a servant and you seek the Lord, you're going to find the joy in ministry."
"Never lose your fire and passion for ministry," said Foster, who added that he is looking for 20 more years of great things from God at Hopewell Baptist.
As for Truett-McConnell College, Foster believes the school's "best days are in front of it."