Colorado Springs Church—Not Afraid to Take Risks—Celebrates 25th Anniversary | Content reserved for subscribers

What some would call a coincidence, Reverend Kelly Williams, pastor of Vanguard Church in Colorado Springs, considers it absolute proof of God’s blessings.

It’s no coincidence, Williams thinks, that he and Tosha, his wife of 28 years, started their Southern Baptist Convention congregation on the fifth anniversary of Williams’ mother’s departure from earthly life because of the bad decision of a drunk driver.

Nor is it a quirk of fate, he says, that the eldest of the couple’s five children was born on his mother’s birthday – two weeks after Tosha’s due date. They named her Anastasia, which has a Greco-Russian origin meaning resurrection.

“It’s the goodness of God, showing us that he knows our pain,” Williams said. “I have the philosophy that God winks at us to remind us that He hasn’t forgotten the sorrow in our lives, and we need to see how God aligns good with evil.”

This attitude, combined with a spirit of “taking risks to reach the lost,” shaped the couple’s pastoral work for 25 years.

Tosha and Kelly Williams pose for a portrait at Vanguard Church. The two formed their church on the idea that “we are who we are,” and for those who don’t like who they are, “it’s OK,” the couple say.

On March 6, Vanguard Church will celebrate its quarter century of existence with a worship service including baptisms and a party at its main campus at 3950 N. Academy Blvd.

Since opening in 1997, Vanguard has baptized 3,309 followers, Williams said. At least seven more people will publicly profess their faith and join the flock on March 6.

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Church leaders also worked with its denominational headquarters and other organizations, such as Compassion International in Colorado Springs, to help plant 75 other churches, Williams said. Some are in Colorado, others on the East Coast and overseas in Norway and Ecuador, for example.

Member Joe Herman said he and his adult son, who has Down syndrome, enjoy attending Vanguard because they feel welcome.

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Senior Pastor Kelly Williams opens the original movie theater doors at Vanguard Church. Vanguard founders Kelly and Tosha Williams rented space at another church in Briargate, then met at college before landing in the old movie theater on North Academy Boulevard.

“They’re just good, solid people,” Herman said of the Williams. “They are very honest and sincere in what they do.”

The Williams, who attended Dallas Theological Seminary together, formed their church on the idea that “we are who we are,” and for those who don’t like who they are, “it’s okay,” the couple say.

“We have nothing to hide,” Tosha said.

“And if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear,” Kelly adds.

As Kelly Williams recounts in her four books, he and Tosha aren’t afraid to go against the norm.

A look at the colorful, enduring and

Here is an example. At the height of the popularity of the Harry Potter books and films, Tosha received permission from the Council of Elders to recreate the fictional school of wizardry, Hogwarts.

“The Lord said, ‘Why don’t you use Harry Potter as a bridge to reach the children who read these books,’ so we did,” Tosha Williams said.

Four hundred child fans showed up to check out the game board. Amid the fun and frivolity, Kelly and Tosha talked about “The Greatest Story Ever Told” – how God created the world and how Jesus is better than Magic.

The unique project garnered national media attention and created widespread controversy that reached Hollywood. Lawyers threatened to sue the church, Tosha said, but the Williams stood on their hallowed ground.

“It established the priority that we will take risks legally, ethically and morally,” Tosha said, “and we will use culture to reach the lost – in this case, children and families.”

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The Vanguard Church Elementary Children’s Hall in Colorado Springs on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022. Pastor Kelly and Tosha Williams founded the church 25 years ago, repurposing commercial space that was once a movie theater. (Chancey Bush/The Gazette)

Kelly Williams also cites a prophetic vision he had about Ted Haggard, the former founder and pastor of the New Life Church, accused of using illicit substances and having sex with men, including a young adult volunteer at his church.

Williams wrote about what has become one of Colorado Springs’ most famous contemporary scandals in her book, “The Mystery of 23: God Speaks,” published in 2018.

He continues to condemn churches for covering up sexual abuse or paying victims for their silence.

“If you see a public Christian figure who has fallen morally, you can rest assured that God has sent people to him privately, and if they refuse to deal with their sin privately, I believe God will expose it publicly. “Williams told The Gazette. when the book was published.

“And that’s what he did with the use of a gay prostitute from Denver, and the resulting media blitz.”

Like other churches that have been around for a while, Vanguard has weathered three significant societal shifts: the September 11 attacks, the Great Recession, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike the closing of churches due to the pandemic, the shift to online services and the overall decline in attendance, 9/11 had the opposite effect, Williams said.

“A lot of people got their faith back, and although it was a very painful time, unlike COVID, it seemed to unify our nation,” he said.

The 2009-2011 recession hit church finances hard, with Vanguard cutting expenses and laying off staff. Today, the church operates a second location at Monument.

Attendance continues to be lower than pre-COVID figures of 800 to 1,300 people, Williams said, between 30% and 70% of that now.

But people’s desire to hear spiritual messages is growing stronger once again, Williams said.

“After COVID, one of the things people could use is something they can relate to,” he said. “We spent two years trying not to die, but we stopped living. We need to recommit and remember that we are human beings created with purpose.

Williams, the son of a Southern Kentucky Baptist preacher, heard the call to religious life when he was 12, but kept it to himself until he was 17.

“It’s my legacy,” he admits.

Every day, the Williams say they are shown how the pain of Kelly who lost his mother 30 years ago – when he was 20 – is not wasted and that his life has a purpose, even in death .

There’s the woman who said last week that she knew Kelly could relate to the loss of her life because of her experiences. And another parishioner who told Tosha last week that she felt like Vanguard Church saw her.

“We developed this, and it touches people’s lives and makes a difference,” Tosha said.

The beginnings

Kelly and Tosha Williams and a friend began meeting for church services at the Williams home in 1997. The trio grew to 12 attendees and soon 75. They rented space inside another church in Briargate then met at college before landing in an old movie theater on North Academy Boulevard.

The former owner was a victim of the advent of megaplexes and went bankrupt.

So when the Williams took over in 2000, they found a punch card in the slot of the machine, films left in the projectors and cups of Coke on the counter. The characteristic smell of popcorn and soda lingered long after the building was purchased, Kelly Williams said.

And the floors of traditional theater halls have been tilted for years.

They pounded the ground and hauled piles and piles of dirt to level the floor during a $1.2 million renovation of the 27,500 square foot theater. It took more than two years to transform the lobby, ticket office, concession stand and six theater rooms into a place of worship.

Traces of its earlier life remain, such as large glass balls that hold oversized light bulbs where snacks were sold and the hanging signs of individual theater rooms, which are now spaces for worship, work, education and of game.

“We kept the nostalgia because of the history – people tell us they saw their first movie here or had their first date at this theater,” Kelly Williams said.

A $3.5 million, nearly 50,000 square foot addition known as Theater 7 followed in 2009, just as the country’s economy was collapsing.

“It was a very dark time for our church,” Williams said. “There was a lot of prayer, a lot of fear, a lot of uncertainty, like what we just experienced. We took it one step at a time. »

Tosha said she thought “at least 1,000 times” that they wouldn’t make it. But they did.

A live band performs onstage during services, where Williams delivers sermons in jeans. He casually but strictly adheres to biblical teachings.

Worshipers receive communion in front of a large wooden cross backlit with a red glow and sit on reclining chairs – like contemporary cinema seats. Online live streaming, which began three years before COVID, continues.

Williams has been gathering followers since the day he and Tosha arrived in the community and looked for someone to help them move heavy objects around their apartment.

A guy in the resort parking lot had been partying but grabbed two corners of their mattress and ushered him into their new home. He became their first convert.

But if a person isn’t ready to read the Bible, they’re not ready to be a Christian, Williams says.

When this happens, he waits patiently, because he says God taught him.

“Vanguard seeks to love people in a true relationship with Jesus Christ,” he said.

“We want to create a space for people to find out who God wants them to be.”

Contact the author: 719-476-1656.

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