Roughly 30 years ago, regular customers at a restaurant he owned introduced Brian Hopper to Jesus. Then in his 20s, Brian had grown up outside of Baltimore the older of two boys in a family that split when he was 7 years old. Both of his parents remarried four years later, but neither took Brian and his little brother to church as they grew up.
After graduating from a Charm City high school, Brian spent the summer before college working at a restaurant in Ocean City. There, he met Suzi. They began dating, and continued a long-distance relationship as he attended college in North Carolina and she earned her degree in Pennsylvania.
Brian graduated with a degree in accounting and worked in an accounting firm for six months before realizing he hated the field. “I don’t know how I missed that in four years of college,” he recalled with a laugh. Suzi recommended he apply his restaurant experience and attend culinary school, which he did in Baltimore for two years before working at some of the nicer dining establishments and country clubs in the area.
Ultimately, Brian and Suzi opened their own restaurant, where they met Doug and Debbie. The couple were believers, and frequented the restaurant not only for the food, but also to begin discipling Brian and Suzi without them even recognizing it.
Over the course of a year, the two couples became close, and Doug and Debbie invited Brian and Suzi – then engaged – to a weekend retreat. That Sunday morning, a Baptist preacher stood up front teaching from Romans 8. He shared the gospel, and the light went on for Brian. When the pastor gave an invitation to come forward and accept Jesus, Brian couldn’t stay seated. He came to faith just months after his fiancé had declared Jesus Savior in her life through the witness of a friend.
The two married, and when it came time to start raising kids, Brian left working in the kitchen to pursue a successful career in sales. Through a promotion, he was relocated to Annapolis. Missing their home church, the Hoppers were excited when they met a Midshipman who told them about Bay Area. They went the next Sunday expecting to see him there. “We loved the church, but we never saw that guy again,” Brian said, noting that at the time – 1996 – Bay Area comprised a couple hundred people.
He and Suzi continued to grow in their faith and get more involved in the church, bringing their two daughters with them. They took a prayer class, and on the last night Brian was so jazzed about an Audio Adrenaline concert he had just seen that Greg St. Cyr knew the young man would be able to connect with other young adults.
“Greg would say he didn’t know anything about Audio Adrenaline, but he knew that somebody who was that excited about Audio Adrenaline could probably connect with younger people,” Brian explained. He and Suzi were asked to help lead Bay Area’s budding young adults ministry, so during the week Brian travelled the country for work, and on Friday nights he and Suzi led a Bible study.
The group quickly grew from 4 to 40 in about six months, and over time Brian began to question whether he was in the right line of work. He was doing very well as a national sales director, but his thoughts began to be consumed with working in ministry.
When it came time to submit his annual plan for the young adults group, known as Crossroads, to Greg and another pastor, Brian posed a question in it without any expectations: “How does a guy like me get to do what you do?”
After nearly a year of prayer and counsel, the Hoppers felt the Lord was in fact calling Brian into ministry. Now in his early 30s with 8- and 6-year-old girls at home, he took a step of faith and quit his job to raise support and come on staff at Bay Area as the church’s first intern. He began working there and attending seminary in 2000. Three years later, with seminary under his belt, Brian became the young adults pastor for Crossroads, which had mushroomed to about 150 people who were being discipled in 12 small groups.
Three years passed and the Hoppers again took a faith step as Bay Area emphasized church planting in its vision. Through a lot of prayer and consideration, Brian and Suzi felt God leading them to plant a church in Richmond, Virginia, which they did with a core group of about 20 from bay Area.
In 2013, Greg invited Brian back to Bay Area to serve as the Missional Communities Pastor – which remains his role today – in part because Brian had started the church plant using a model of small groups that were on mission to spread the gospel.
“My role is to cast vision for Missional Communities, to lead our leaders – equip, train and prepare them so they can effectively minister to and lead the people that God has entrusted to their care,” Brian explained. He also oversees Bay Area’s residency program, through which five men are currently being trained up to be sent out as pastors and missionaries, and the School of Biblical Leadership, which is in its pilot year.
“What brings me joy and fulfilment here [at Bay Area] is watching people take steps of faith into new arenas and areas of growth,” Brian shared. “Whether that’s a new Missional Community leader getting trained up, leading and seeing God use them as they lead a group of people – that just fires me up – or in the School of Leadership, thinking about how the folks in that class are learning and growing … or in the residency – the Lord is going to send them. He’s sending Joseph to India to lead International Cultural Bible Ministries, which is going to affect hundreds of pastors in a country that’s less than 1 percent Christian – that’s a big deal!”
At home, Brian also gets fired up about his family – his wife of 28 years and their two grown daughters Abby and Ellen. He loves to run, noting the truth in the statement printed on a mug that was gifted him: I run to burn off the crazy. As an introvert, Brian enjoys reading and spending time alone to think and process. And of course, he and Suzi love to cook, frequently opening their home to bless others with good food and company – including that of their dog, Wallace.
Brian highlighted his gratitude for the Bay Area as both church family and employer, noting he feels he’s been “cut from the fabric of Bay Area.”
With a posture of expectancy, he emphasized, “I’m excited about what the Lord is doing here.”