Though still small in numbers, the church is growing and thriving
To many who know them, Tom and Vangie Armiger are ministry veterans. The couple has been in ministry together their entire married lives of 40 years. Tom has served in various capacities: youth pastor, lead pastor, director at Wesleyan headquarters, General Superintendent, district superintendent, and president and CEO of World Hope International, the official Christian relief and development partner of The Wesleyan Church. The couple has “been around the [ministry] block.”
In 2013, the Armigers sensed they were ready for a change. Both missed being in ministry at the local church level, as it had been 30 years since leaving that ministry setting for general and district leadership. The couple wanted to be directly involved in the lives of the lay persons sitting in the pew.
Planting a church in Florida had been Tom’s dream for many years, but the Armigers were also open to pastoring a small, established church. So Tom began conversing with Florida District Superintendent Patrick Styers about possibilities.
Through many conversations and much prayer, the Armigers were led to Villas Wesleyan Church, a “developing” church located in Fort Myers, Fla. Once a vibrant church, Villas Wesleyan was in need of some “TLC” in the multi-ethnic community in southwest Florida. A few faithful parishioners still attended, but the once-strong church was weak and in danger of dying altogether.
Now, two years later, the small, yet growing church is experiencing life change as adults and children of all ages are being “made new” in Christ after much collaboration and hard work. Various age groups and many ethnicities make up the church’s DNA. Rev. Pat Lertch is also an intricate part of Villas Wesleyan, where she serves as assistant pastor.
A church near death, its life has been resuscitated mainly through many ministries, including ministry to youth and children–many of whom attend church without parents. The church considered launching a Vacation Bible school (VBS) program in 2014, but it lacked ample volunteers. This summer, 30 volunteers led VBS and 26 children attended, 11 of them who had never attended the church before. Many of those children are now attending Villas Wesleyan regularly.
Surprisingly, Vangie points out that many of the kids and youth who attend Villas Wesleyan are the spiritual leaders in their families.
“A lot of kids come by themselves, walk to church, or parents drop them off,” said Vangie. “One teen’s parents are now coming to church because of VBS. We are beginning to reach the families of teens and children.”
The multi-generational church is a true example of loving well. Adults of all ages are faithful to attend, serve in capacities with the children and youth ministry, and give of their tithes. Vangie said some of those parishioners who had left in years past are returning to the church. While the kids and teens experience transformation in their lives, adults, both those who attend the church and kids’ parents, are taking notice. Adults of various ages who are new to the church are also finding Christ and beginning to serve.
Ministry seems to be thriving at a church that was near the bottom a few years back. Vangie believes it’s not because they are doing anything special.
“We don’t feel like we are doing anything other than good old-fashioned praying, evangelizing, reaching, preaching, teaching, worshiping the Lord, and serving the community and world together,” said Vangie. “God is being faithful. We are just loving people here, being with them, discipling them, and giving them places to serve. We are building trust with them, which leads to the gospel at work in their lives.”
Exciting things are happening within the realms of discipleship and outreach. A handful of kids are engaged in a discipleship program, taught by Vangie. And a number of teens are attending church Sunday mornings and youth group Wednesday evenings. Teens are led by Jon Hinton, the worship and youth pastor.
Kids and teens are attending summer camps now. Approximately 20 teens, ages 6th-12th grades, are fundraising, planning to attend their first Wesleyan youth conference, Follow, this December in Indianapolis.
Villas Wesleyan also held a missions conference a year ago, the first in several years. The hope was that $8,000 would be raised for 10 projects. Rather, $12,000 was pledged. The next missions conference will occur in early November.
When asked what keeps Tom and Vangie pastoring at a church that has presented some challenges, she giggled and said, “What keeps us at this church? It’s fun! After working in administrative positions for so many years, a small, yet growing church allows and needs us to do things we have not done for a long time. Though different, we are both using our gifts in ways we find very rewarding.”
Pictured: Villas Wesleyan Church staff and laypersons pray for children and youth prior to the start of this school year.