Steve Looper was born again at the age of 10 while attending VBS at his home church Columbia Hill Baptist in Monterey. Five years later God called Steve into ministry as a bass player for a Southern Gospel Group that traveled the eastern United States. He later met his wife Michelle when he joined her family’s singing group and they quickly became united in their love of God and their love for each other.
Johnny Bowman had lived most of his life in Monterey, Tennessee. He grew up playing football as well as other sports and ended up marrying his high school sweetheart Penny. Johnny gave his life to Jesus Christ at 23 and the Holy Spirit began working on his heart to prepare him for ministry. Not just any ministry… a ministry in Monterey.
In April 2014, God began unfolding his plan for Hope in Christ Fellowship. It was a plan as old as time itself but God had waited for the perfect time to reveal it. Steve and Michelle had been praying about planting a new church for three years but they didn’t know where it was going to be. In the winter of 2013, Steve Tiebout from The River Community Church in Cookeville stopped in to visit his friend Johnny Bowman at First Baptist Monterey. He told Johnny that The River was going to start a Small Group in Monterey with the intention of possibly planting a new church. Johnny gave him his blessing and shared his excitement about God’s plans.
In March of 2014, Steve Looper attended a Small Group training session at The River in preparation to lead a small group in Monterey. During the class, God revealed to him that He was planning a new church, not a small group, and he was calling Steve and Michelle Looper to lead it. At the same time that God was preparing Steve’s heart he was also preparing Johnny’s heart. In late April, Johnny decided to take a week off to pray and fast because he felt God leading him in a different direction.
Not knowing Steve or his plan to announce the new church on May 25th, God placed on Johnny’s heart to announce on the same day that he was resigning his position as senior pastor to prepare to plant a new church in Monterey. When Johnny called Steve Tiebout at The River for advice on planting a new church, Steve told him about the Loopers and what God had called them to do in Monterey. He asked Johnny if he wanted to be a part of it and Johnny said yes.
Steve and Johnny started out meeting for lunch and talking and praying. At this point, they didn’t have a building or a congregation or any money, but they knew that they had the same heart for the lost people in Monterey and they had faith that God was going to provide all that they needed to build His church. First, a friend offered them a place to worship in a local school building. Then, someone offered them an office building. Another person gave them a drum set. Someone else gave office furniture. Yet another person walked up to Johnny on the street and gave him a sizable check. And before they knew it, God called 40 people together to form a launch team that had all of the skills and talents needed to build the new church.
After one month of launch team meetings, The River commissioned Hope in Christ Fellowship as an official mission of their church. We held our “soft launch” worship service on July 27, 2014 and 187 people showed up! We were floored. We had expected maybe 70 or 80 but God had other plans. Since that time, He has been faithful and His blessings continue to flow. We are just grateful to be called by God to participate in His plan and are excited about what the future holds for Monterey and the surrounding area!