By LINDA M. LINONIS
One church in multiple locations is how David L. Thomas, lead pastor with his wife, Kathie, describes Victory Christian Center. On Sundays, some 3,600 people worship at eight sites located in western Pennsylvania and Northeast Ohio.
It began at First Assembly of God Church in Lowellville, where Pastor Thomas became senior pastor of a congregation of 46 in 1978. The church became Victory Assembly in 1980 then Victory Christian Center in 1986 when it relocated to 3899 McCartney Road, Coitsville.
The Coitsville campus, which accounts for 68 percent of the attendance, is on 100 acres. There is a 62,000-square-foot worship center that seats up to 2,000; a connected auditorium that was the former worship center; all-purpose Life Center that seats 1,000; and Prayer Center. The Riot building is used primarily for youth activities. The business office is at 15 Bedford Road, Lowellville.
“Legally, everything is under Victory and is one,” Pastor Thomas said. “That’s an advantage.”
He said Victory in Coitsville was called the main campus but that phrase is no longer used. But, he noted, the Coitsville campus has set the “spirit of excellence” in worship and practical matters. The pastor said the Coitsville campus developed the programs and ministries used by the other campuses. That’s a valuable resource for new sites.
Those worshipping at other sites participate in activities at Coitsville and that include a hospital visitation team. Small groups on special interests fulfill Victory’s slogan, “There’s a Place for You.”
Victory’s approach has remained constant. “It’s about treating people with dignity and respect,” he said.
Pastor Thomas said each campus “has its own flavor and style that reflects the culture.” Overall, the church has added buildings, property and a staff of 100. The 2012 budget was $7 million, with $1 million donated to Victory Compassion Ministries, which benefits people in the Valley and worldwide.
The newest site is at the former Western Reserve Community Church, 8590 Hitchcock Road, Boardman. Other sites are in New Wilmington and New Castle, Pa., and Liberty, Warren, Columbiana and Vienna.
Its website, www.vcccoitsville.com, lists campuses in this manner: Victory@Vienna. “The website is the new front door,” Pastor Thomas said.
Pastor Thomas credits Victory’s growth to a guideline he follows: “Keep it simple, keep it real and make God relevant in people’s everyday lives.”
For members, Pastor Thomas said, Victory’s appeal is in that approach. “Life is hard enough without trying to figure out church,” he said. “We value relationships over religious do’s and don’ts. Jesus came to give us a relationship with God the father.”
The “DNA of Victory is love,” he said. “We love God completely, we love people unconditionally and we love life enthusiastically.”
He described Victory as “relevant and relational.” Pastor Thomas said Victory is an Assembly of God church that “preaches the Bible.” He said a pastoral focus is “giving people hope.” “Jesus Christ came to give us hope,” he said. “We give God the glory.”
Pastor Thomas said the leadership and members “try to understand what God’s will is and we cooperate.” They take the cue from passage from John 5:19, “Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.”
He said it wasn’t Victory’s intention to get bigger; it worked out that way. Victory “planted two campuses in New Castle and Liberty,” Pastor Thomas said. The others have approached Victory about being part of the church. “It’s a process of prayer,” he said.
Victory leadership meets with the church membership, which votes on becoming part of Victory. “We have a deep sense that Lord is in this with us,” he said.
As for the newest site in Boardman, Pastor Mark Cuprik said he and his wife, Charon, went to Victory in Coitsville about 11 years ago.
“We wanted to have our children baptized,” Pastor Cuprik said. They were 7 and 3 at the time. The family started attending Victory in January 2002; in September, both responded to an altar call.
The couple also went through “The Road,” a discipleship tool of 15 lessons.
Pastor Cuprik was motivated to move beyond membership; since 2007 he has been a licensed minister with Next Level Leadership founded by Pastor Thomas. In 2008, he began serving at Victory in New Castle as an associate pastor until returning to the Coitsville campus in 2013. “My wife and I were moved to give back the love we received at Victory,” he said, adding they got involved in ministries.
In February 2013, Pastor Cuprik went to Western Reserve Community Church, where he had preached. “God led us to do this,” he said. He became interim pastor. Late last year, the small membership voted to become Victory at Boardman and celebrated that change Jan. 5. “This is an exciting time,” Pastor Cuprik said. Sunday attendance has grown to about 80 people.
Pastor Thomas described Victory as an “multiethnic and multi-cultural” church with bi-vocational pastors, that is, some have secular jobs.
He said some may have doubted Victory’s validity early on but it has “stood the test of time.”
Pastor Thomas said the church wants members to grow in their relationship with God but “we’re practical about helping people.”