Pastor of Coitsville megachurch hands leadership to next generation

Bishop Thomas is not retiring, though, and will continue to oversee all eight Victory Christian Center campuses

Pastor Juan Rivera, Bishop Dave Thomas, Victory Christian Center Coitsville


COITSVILLE, Ohio (WKBN) – There’s been a big change at the largest church in the Youngstown area. The man who grew Victory Christian Center into the megachurch it is today will no longer be in charge of its largest campus.

On the first Sunday of the new year, a large crowd at Victory’s Coitsville campus watched Pastor Juan Rivera embrace Bishop David Thomas, as Rivera succeeded Thomas as lead pastor.

“We have a spiritual father and son relationship,” Thomas said last week. “I’ve watched him grow and develop as a man and as a minister, and we’ve known probably about the last year and a half, have had a deeper sense that something was happening.”

Last Friday, WKBN talked to both of them about what’s next.

“I’m trying to find a different pace at this place in my life because I’ve worked extremely hard for all of these decades,” Thomas said.

It was 40 years ago that he and his wife, Kathie, took over the 46-member Coitsville Assembly of God.

“We decided we’re going to keep things simple. We’re going to love God and love people,” he said.

As people joined, the church expanded. In the early 80s, the name was changed to Victory Christian Center. The Sky-Hi drive-in was bought and a new 1,800 seat church was built.

It’s not simple anymore.

“Over 100 employees, over $6 million budget, we own all eight facilities and plus other properties,” Thomas said. “So it’s big. Yes, it’s not simple.”

Rivera said he was a senior in high school when he started going to Victory. The reason he went was that he was courting a girl — his future wife, Deidre.

“God was on my mind but there was also a girl on my mind,” Rivera said.

He’s from the south side and graduated from Wilson. He went to Bible School, was in New Jersey, worked a few years at Victory, then spent ten years as lead pastor at Poland’s New Life Church.

Until Bishop Thomas called.

“Well, my first reaction was, ‘I have to think about this,'” Rivera said.

He took a month, prayed on it, then said yes.

“I enjoy doing things that are bigger than me because then it requires me to trust not in my own gift set or ability or ingenuity,” Rivera said. “It requires me to stay very close to God.”

Bishop Thomas is not retiring. He will continue to oversee all eight Victory Christian campuses.

He says he still enjoys life and watching the next generation of leaders take over.

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