Cranberry church celebrates opening of expanded worship center

| Saturday, June 8, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

John Nuzzo once stood in a darkened movie theater in Cranberry and preached to 33 people, most of whom were family and friends.

Twenty years later, Nuzzo preaches to a congregation of more than 2,000 in the newly renovated Victory Family Church in Cranberry.

“It was in our hearts to see this happen,” Nuzzo said. “I believe we were called to build a regional church that would touch thousands.”

Nuzzo, 52, who grew up in Beaver, and his wife, Michelle, preached throughout the country, but he said it became his mission to build a large, nondenominational Christian church in Cranberry after they drove through the area in 1988.

The Nuzzos started small, in the movie theater. A growing congregation kept them moving to larger facilities until they built a church at Victory's present Route 19 location in 2006.

Attendance at weekend services jumped from 850 people to about 2,800,

Victory began a renovation and expansion program in 2011, roughly doubling its size, making Nuzzo's dream of opening a regional church a reality.

“I had never anticipated doing this. It was something we felt called to, not something that we chose,” Nuzzo said. “We responded to that call, and then a lot of really wonderful people have connected to it.”

Churchgoers raised more than $9 million over about five years to expand the worship center to 118,000 square feet.

Inside Victory Family Church, a spacious 2,400 seat sanctuary is equipped with a large stage, spotlights and large TV screens for worship services.

After services, churchgoers can grab a piña colada-flavored smoothie or a cup of black bean soup in the church's cafe, or pick up religious items in the bookstore.

While adults attend the worship service, volunteers instruct children about the Bible in 15 classrooms. One classroom looks like Heinz Field, while another has a puppet show stage.

Nurseries equipped with rocking chairs and baby food are available for infants, and an arcade is ready to entertain children.

Ashley Wagner, 26, of Cranberry brings her two children to Victory Family Church every weekend.

“Our focus is on families,” said Wagner, who works with the church's youth services department. “It gives me a chance to experience God and get everything out of the worship service and more for my children.”

Wagner said her 4-year-old daughter Sophia and 3-year-old son Zachary look forward to their time at church.

The church employs about 60 people and has hundreds of volunteers, said Slavena Stefanova, who works in the accounting department.

In the days leading to the renovated church's grand opening on Saturday, volunteers and their young children painted classrooms, organized toys and stacked books and Bibles in the bookstore. Stefanova, 25, of Butler has been a member of the church for five years.

The different services for people of different ages appealed to her.

“It's called Victory Family Church for a reason,” Stefanova said. “Because we have something for each age group.”

Christina Gallagher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5637 or

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