First Baptist Church of Dawsonville had fewer than 50 active members when Pastor Jim Gaines arrived.
"I was only going to stay for a couple of months [as interim pastor] and the church just all of a sudden started growing," he said.
After much prayer, Gaines left his job with the Georgia Baptist Convention and became the church's full-time pastor in 1998.
On Sunday, the congregation along with the community and many guests celebrated Gaines' 15th anniversary and the church's accomplishments.
"It's just humbling. It is," Gaines said. "It's very humbling that so many people remembered and noticed and took occasion to congratulate us and our ministry there."
Founded in 1854, First Baptist has grown to one of the largest and most active churches in the county, with a congregation nearing 600 members.
The church's ministries range from providing food and clothing to local families in need to medical mission trips in Africa.
"We have about 43 ministries in our church," Gaines said. "We have a big Easter program and a Christmas cantata that have 1,200 to 1,400 [attendees] each year. We have a Compelled by Love ministry that we do three times a year in the community. We reach about 1,000 people each time."
The church's work was recognized by several guests who paid tribute to the congregation's service mentality.
Gaines was presented with commendations from Gov. Nathan Deal, the city of Dawsonville and Congressman Doug Collins' office.
The pastor said he was honored the governor "took the time from his schedule to be there."
"Gov. Deal, I've known him for years and years," Gaines said. "When I worked for the convention, he helped to host a breakfast for me every year to raise money for underprivileged girls and boys camp.
"I was delighted that he came and he spoke about servant mentality and gave me a commendation."
Deal's message of service and the importance of a church's role in that resonated with the congregation, according to Gaines.
"That's one of his pillars," he said. "Really and truly, his message was about service, about people being committed to help others and be service oriented and developing that type of lifestyle, servant mentality lifestyle. The church is very service oriented, unified and caring for each other."
State Rep. Kevin Tanner, a Republican from Dawsonville, attended the service with the governor.
"The church has been a beacon in our community for 158 years," Tanner said. "... I am blessed to count [Gaines] as a friend. [He] is truly worthy of all the wonderful accolades bestowed upon him during the service."