It was 1998, and 21-year-old Sulfur Springs resident and part-time grocery clerk Joel Tiemeyer was wondering about his place in the world. He loved business, but had little time to study after long hours of work. He wanted to travel, but had no money to do so.
“I was really dissatisfied and dissatisfied,” Tiemeyer said. “I was probably at my lowest point. I couldn’t find any joy at all.
One night, as Tiemeyer stood alone beside the family bonfire and gazed up at the night sky, he experienced what some might call a miracle.
The sky was clear above the oaks, and the will of the Lord was revealed to him in the field of stars: “I will cause your seed to become as numerous as the stars of the sky. Tiemeyer recalled the quote told to Abraham in Genesis as he too pondered his purpose.
“Why would God use someone like me?” He asked. That’s when he heard the answer loud and clear: “God said to me, ‘If you give me your life, I’ll take you where you want to go. As long as you preach the gospel.’”
Tiemeyer did not know that his descendants would be spiritual descendants, and he would see the world many times over after founding The Way Bible Church right here at his home in Hopkins County. As The Way prepares to inaugurate a new expansion of its facilities this month, Tiemeyer reflected on the church’s history and where it’s next.
The Tiemeyer family are not originally from Hopkins County, although they are now fixtures. They came to Hopkins in 1984 following bankruptcy in their home state of Michigan when Joel was just six years old.
“I had a single suitcase of clothes…and an old Caprice 4-door that was pretty much dead, and we moved here with nothing,” he noted.
The family lived a struggling blue-collar life in Mahoney while Tiemeyer was growing up. His struggles in school were also very real, as he took developmental classes in math and reading.
“A high B and an A in the singular would have been a great report card for me,” said Tiemeyer, who took special education classes. “I didn’t know college was an option.”
After becoming a night shift worker at Brookshires after graduation, Tiemeyer floated through life – until his revelation under the stars.
In that moment, he knew he had to do whatever it took to preach a message of hope and acceptance. So in 1999 he rented the Country Folks Inn conference room and brought his boombox for the music. For his first services he had two parishioners – his mother and father.
“We had nothing. We had nothing,” he joked. “But they were super proud and super supportive.”
Soon brother and sister-in-law Jeff and Amy Tiemeyer joined the group, and Joel’s fiancée, Sheri, was happy to help the church as needed. Tiemeyer had a sudden thirst for learning and was taking math and business classes at community college.
Yet the church had growing pains.
“We were lucky if we had eight or ten [people] serving those early years,” Tiemeyer joked.
But little by little, things began to change for the church. In 2001, Tiemeyer, who had never imagined going to college, earned a bachelor’s degree in commerce and enrolled in theological school. Tiemeyer’s message of hope began to catch on, and it was infectious. In 2002, hours before his wedding ceremony, Tiemeyer was informed that there was literally no room at the inn – the Country Folks Inn hotel was closing and the growing congregation would have to meet elsewhere. Before long, TWBC purchased a cotton-era A-frame church on the corner of Davis and Jefferson.
And then things begin to happen for the church all at once.
MARTIN SPRINGS CAMPUS
With the congregation now growing exponentially, Tiemeyer knew the church would have to grow at some point.
“We were looking for land, something that we could make our own,” Tiemeyer said. That’s exactly what they discovered in 2005, when a 24-acre property came up for sale in Martin Springs.
“That was pretty much the only thing there,” Tiemeyer noted. “Our neighbor was a dairy, and all that was here was a little shack.”
Tiemeyer and the rest of the congregation envisioned a church community like in the days of Hopkins County’s past, where life centered on religion, family, and unity. So Tiemeyer, not yet 30, signed a $350,000 construction loan to start The Way’s new home.
In the old Hopkins tradition of collective community building, TWBC worked together to construct the worship space, from electrical work to framing, decorating and more. Over the next 15 years, attendance grew from a few dozen to an average of 850 to 1,000, with up to 40 different study groups and volunteers. The church cares for nearly 300 children and young people and conducts approximately 70 baptisms a year.
“It’s our message that resonates so strongly,” Tiemeyer said. “The difference is Christ. We have hope for something bigger than what is happening here. We preach encouragement, because everything in the world beats us. We just treat each other very differently, with a lot of love and respect.
The Way currently attracts parishioners from all five counties surrounding Hopkins and also has a large online presence. Congregants tune in from Rwanda, Nigeria, the Philippines, Nevada and Florida, and an average device has about three people, Tiemeyer estimates. Last year, the Easter service had 1,400 participants between in person and online.
“If you go online for our services, or if you come all the way here, you are very intentional,” he said. “We’re not easy to find here in little Martin Springs, Texas. But we are making a big difference.
“I love how we experience it in a new and real way each time we worship it together,” added brother Jeff Tiemeyer.
TO COME UP
After celebrating 22 years together, the congregation was ready for its next phase. It started in 2019, Tiemeyer said.
“God has continued to advise the elders of the church and me to invest in very good cameras, audio/video,” he noted. “We didn’t think we heard it right, because it’s not us. We are all about in-person, authentic, organic fellowship. »
But, he said, without questioning God’s plan, “I guess we hear it.”
They upgraded their multimedia equipment and prepared to make services more easily accessible online. Little did The Way members know the Covid-19 pandemic was approaching and that parishioners would depend on electronic services more than ever.
Starting March 12, 2019, the building closed for eight weeks for pandemic security and during a break, a renovation took place inside the facility.
“There is no perfect time for a pandemic, but we have been able to not decrease, but actually increase our services,” he noted.
During the renovation, the floor was reconfigured to provide more space for children on Sunday mornings and young people and teenagers on Wednesday evenings. The sound booth tripled in size to increase media capabilities and better engage the church’s rapidly growing online community. All toilets have been renovated and the women’s bathroom has doubled in size. The former offices of the pastors have been converted into a new space for the nursery and toddlers.
The cost, just over $300,000, was paid for entirely by donations and intentional giving. Tiemeyer is particularly proud that all the money was collected in small batches by the parishioners.
“This is not a person who says, ‘Oh, I’m rich, I can afford to give away hundreds of thousands of dollars,'” he noted. A church member, a 60-year-old widow, turned her home into a pie factory for a year. Others, like families with four or five children, gave five or ten dollars. After all was said and done, the church did the renovations and incurred no debt in the process.
“There are so many people who have given and sacrificed, and that’s why we’re all ready to turn the earth back together,” Tiemeyer said.
Now the church will open a new worship center next week which it hopes to complete in 2022. The space will seat approximately 800 and include an area for outdoor activities and updated parking to better coincide with the ADA compliance.
“In the design phase, we really made a philosophical shift from modern church designs and layouts,” Tiemeyer noted. “We’ve moved away from the ‘come and go’ mindset to a ‘you belong, please stay’ culture.”
That’s why the new campus addition will flow between indoor and outdoor spaces, as well as physical and digital spaces, Tiemeyer said. This is part of their original mission to create a community of positivity and inclusivity where people can be present in Martin Springs, but also part of their new mission to reach out to people, wherever they are in the world.
“The Way Bible Church is a place where you can feel welcomed, accepted and loved where you are on the way to where you are going,” noted Bonnie, Tiemeyer’s mother and prayer ministry coordinator.
“It’s about all of us, what we’ve built together, and where we’re going next,” Tiemeyer agreed. “We look forward to the next twenty years and what God has in store for us,”
Groundbreaking will take place on October 31 at 10:45 a.m. and will be open to the public. For more information, visit www.twbcss.com.
By Taylor Nye