Pastor Charlie Muller of Victory Christian Church works on one simple principle: Go beyond the four walls.
It’s that emphasis on local humanitarian work that grew his 19-year-old Albany congregation past building capacity twice over, he said. On Sunday night, a church service dedicated its third site on Hamburg Street in Rotterdam. While the attendees fit nicely within its four walls, they seemed pretty excited to get started.
Muller greeted the hundreds who gathered in a sanctuary newly modernized by big-screen TVs and sound equipment.
“There’s not going to be much preaching tonight,” he said in a voice made raspy by a day of public speaking.
Then it was on to the music, a thumping rock ’n’ roll affair moving everyone from 7 to 70 to dance and sing.
There wasn’t a silent person in the place, but no one listed music as a reason for attending Victory.
“I was just standing at the bus stop outside Victory in Albany,” said Shaquille Fullerton. “One of the members said ‘hello’ to me. I followed him into the church and I just had to stay. I didn’t even think about it. It wasn’t premeditated.”
That was four years ago when Fullerton was an un-churched 15-year-old. Since, then he’s volunteered at Victory’s thrift store and feeding stations.
Sunday evening, he stood outside the church directing people to the few remaining parking spaces.
Another active member, Marty Stanton, chose Victory 11 years ago for its children’s ministry.
Stanton was in Albany County Jail in the early ’90s doing a stint for dealing cocaine when he converted.
“When I went in, my daughter was 5,” he said. “When I got out, she was 10. I had a lot to do to make things right.”
Now he’s heavily involved in Victory’s prison ministry and does some preaching for Muller.
Win and Pat LaPierre came from the church’s second branch, planted in Colonie two years ago.
“Great things are happening there,” Win said, noting the congregation’s growth from roughly 30 to more than 100 and a recently constructed coffeehouse/bookstore set to open next month.
After 30 years of faith, he said God led him to Victory, specifically to Muller.
“He’s a man after God’s own heart,” he said. “He’s just a regular Joe.”
It’s true Muller doesn’t seem like the conventional pastor. He took the stage Sunday in a pair of jeans, talking to people in the front row like the service was starting up in his backyard.
He’s a likable guy but, when asked, he didn’t take credit for attracting the congregation. Instead, he talked of all the things that the congregation has done in its two decades.
It’s a long list, including the poorest Albany kids getting food and help with their homework, scores of inmates drawn to worship behind bars, and to service when released. Muller has led several gun buybacks in Schenectady.
The Albany church was purposefully planted in a bad section of town; as a previous Golden Glove boxer Muller wasn’t intimidated. The new Rotterdam church is in a slightly cleaner neighborhood and there’s a good reason for the upgrade.
“It’ll be a sanctuary of peace for city kids,” he said, describing how Hamilton Hill, arguably the most troubled neighborhood in Schenectady, is just a mile away.
“Two years ago I bought back nine guns from there in one day,” he said.
Though the church is in its early stages, and will have to grow from about 50 regulars, he has some big plans.
Eventually, Muller hopes to establish an internship program for students in seminary and to set up another feeding station in Rotterdam.
“I see this growing faster than Colonie,” he said, “though I don’t really emphasize numbers.”
Services will be held at 2739 Hamburg St. in Rotterdam starting at 10 a.m. Sunday.