When the Rev. Richard Culpepper accepted the position as senior pastor to Harvest Baptist Church in May 2002 there were only a handful of worshipers present for Sunday morning service. Today, attendance averages 250. Through Impact Discipleship, the church began to grow exponentially as they mentored people one at a time and in small groups.
Larry Rose, treasurer and chairman of building and grounds, testified to the effectiveness of the discipleship program.
"There are a lot of good people here," said Rose. "I feel closer to the Lord than I have ever felt in any other church. They really take care of you. They don't just get you in the door and forget about you - they evangelize you through discipleship groups."
The ministry has crossed racial, social and economic lines. Culpepper describes HBC as a unique place where everyone is received, accepted and ministered to.
"One of my greatest joys as a pastor is when I hear people say, 'You've got to come to our church,'" said Culpepper. "That is the way we have grown. To the Lord's glory, we are averaging 30 baptisms a year."
Located at 2075 Highway 212 in Covington, the original facility constructed in 1987 is debt free and houses the student worship. In 2007, a new structure with 21,000 square feet was built to accommodate the sanctuary, administrative offices and classrooms. An additional 7,000 square feet upstairs will be completed as needed to support 18 classrooms. Future plans are to move the main entrance and worship center to the new property acquired at the top of the hill.
HBC's logo, A Lighthouse to the World, is evidence of their commitment to expand the ministry across the globe. They partner with ministries in Russia and Jamaica. The college and career class recently completed a mission trip to Poland and the Rev. Culpepper held a crusade in the Philippines in August. Locally, HBC partners with the Refuge Pregnancy Center and Faith Works and started Celebrate Recovery in December.
A native of Newton County, Culpepper grew up in a musical family. His father, songwriter Perry Culpepper, ministers at HBC in the sound department. An accomplished musician, the Rev. Culpepper plays the keyboard and guitar. His sons, William and Mylon play in the student band. His wife Kim is employed with Atlanta Gas Light and ministers along side her husband and teaches the ladies Sunday school class and children's worship.
Culpepper graduated from Mt. Vernon Christian School in Stockbridge, attended the Baptist University of America and graduated from Luther Rice Seminary in 2004 with a BA in Religion.
"As a staff, we are finding ourselves being stretched and God is taking us deeper in our walk," said Culpepper. "Until he has tried us and tested us, he will not release us to a new level of ministry."
Associate Pastor, Robbie Norman, leads family life and student ministries. Licensed in 2003 and ordained in 2006, Norman holds an AS from Georgia Perimeter College and will graduate from Luther Rice University in spring, 2009. His goal is to develop the next generation of student leaders. Norman is encouraging students to support See you at the Pole on September 24.
"We intentionally give the teens an opportunity to do ministry," said Norman. "We operate outreach clubs at middle schools before school begins one day a week. Last Friday at Veterans Memorial Middle School, we had over 100 attend campus life."
Minister of Pastoral Care Gene Crawford is assisted by his wife Mary Judith as they make in-home and hospital visits to those in need. In addition, he plays the dobro in the praise band and teaches the men's Sunday school class.
"The church is a gift from God to man and he commands us to come and assemble on a regular basis," said Minister Crawford. "It means fellowship and unity among God's people."
As director of preschool and children's ministries, Christy Layson plans children's camp, vacation Bible school and field trips.
The church enjoys a blended worship with instruments dobro, mandolin, drum, guitar and banjo. Sunday school is offered at 9:45 a.m. followed by worship services at 11:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Celebrate Recovery meets at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday. The Journey Children's Ministry and adult Bible study and prayer meeting are held on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. with the teen ministry at 6:45 p.m. For more information on Harvest Baptist Church, call 770-787-7275, or visit www.hbccovington.com.