What was once one of the fastest growing megachurches in the country—Venue Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee—today is reeling from a staff exodus due to their pastor’s alleged infidelity.
According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, eight employees of Venue Church quit last week after confronting Lead Pastor Tavner Smith in meetings last Friday with allegations he was having an affair. The confrontation came shortly after a video surfaced apparently showing Smith kissing a woman other than his wife.
A spokesperson for Venue told the Times Free Press that the church would not comment until the severance process for the employees was finished. “We are currently conducting our exit process with our staff members. We appreciate their service and value their feedback,” the church said in an email.
The video of Smith and another woman was posted in a comment thread on Facebook by Colt Chandler Helton, a former employee of the church.
Smith is a married father of three children, but began divorce proceedings against his wife, Danielle, in May, the Times Free Press reported.
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Smith started Venue in 2012. And by 2015, a report from Lifeway Research and Outreach magazine ranked Venue as the 7th fastest growing church in America. At the time, the church had close to 2,000 attenders every Sunday and six services.
Yet according to Helton, who helped the church grow from 150 people to more than a thousand, the church is rife with abuse and questionable financial practices.
In a Facebook post December 19, Helton alleged that Venue has “zero elders or accountability.” He added that staff were told there was no money, but Smith “had a new car every few weeks. And the shopping trips would blow your mind. From exotic dogs to shoe and jersey collections.”
According to Helton, the theology at Venue shifted often, and the church eventually began promoting “prosperity gospel.”
Helton added that he had witnessed physical and mental abuse by leaders at the church. He said he also witnessed “many times the lead pastor have ‘alone time’ with females on the worship team and congregation.”
Reflecting on his time with Venue, Helton said, “I taught the ‘Iranians how to make nuclear weapons’ and gave a man who had very very bad intentions the ability to make a mega church.”
Former employees told the Times Free Press that Venue focused intensely on tithing, the practice of giving 10% of one’s income to the church.
According to the news outlet, Smith and his wife own two homes valued at nearly $950,000 combined, and the church property is valued at $4.9 million.
In its earlier days, Venue was associated with the Association of Related Churches or ARC, which recently has been plagued by scandals involving pastors at ARC churches. ARC also is known for restoring fallen pastors back to ministry.
Venue once boasted that it has helped plant 200 churches through its partnership with ARC.
Venue has an active social media presence, with tens of thousands of followers on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Destiny Santos, who attended the church for five years and served on the security team, told the Times Free Press that the church carefully curated its online image. She said she was once asked to let down her curly hair for a picture so the church would appear more racially diverse.
Santos also said Smith would discredit people who left the church, saying that people were either with Venue or they were part of the devil’s move against it. She added that certain people were banned from the campus.
“Anyone that spoke bad about him or the church went onto this watch list with code names and explanations as to why they’re not allowed,” Santos explained to the Times Free Press.
As a result of her experience at Venue, Santos said she struggling to discern what was real about her Christian experience.
“A lot of us are dealing with dealing with deconstruction our faith because of our time at Venue,” she told the Times Free Press. “And it’s not fair to a lot of us, but we almost don’t have a choice because we don’t know what was real and what was fake.”
Venue was planning to have three services on December 26 at its two campuses. The church website now states that services Sunday will be online only.
13 thoughts on “Pastor’s Alleged Infidelity Causes Staff Exodus from Venue Church”
Venue is not a church and Smith is not a pastor. Why would anyone want to restore a corrupt pastor to leadership in the church? Restore to fellowship yes, restore to ministry no.
Restore to fellowship !? That’s just as funny !
I suggest getting the corrupt con man WOLF SAVED ! In the meantime kicking the snake to the curb !
That would be a great start ! Mega church Leaders are made for the wolves and the sexually perverted !
Tim you are right. A non saved person can not be restored.
“…pastor… leadership in the church…”
concepts that have both fast become caricatures. absolute caricatures.
“Venue Church” seems like a spoof.
I hope the staff and congregants find themselves better places to be this Christmas.
Reminds me of the old humorous song that says:
My brother’s a poor missionary
He saves fallen women from sin
He’ll save you a blonde for ten dollars
Oh my, how the money rolls in!
Church Inc., it beats working for a living.
Did the staff/congregation know about the divorce proceedings that began back in May?
There were rumors but they didn’t believe them, until the video came out then after that most of staff left and volunteered
If only he had believed what he “preached” a few years ago in a sermon entitled “Relationship Goals- the Dange or Uninvited Guests”.tbsart
At about 36:00 is the good stuff about his family and WIFE. Oops!
We have reliable statistics in regard to tithing. It irrefutably doesn’t work. It simply doesn’t work.
It’s racist, and sexist.
The more money a Christian makes, the less they give. Reconcile that with what you hear from most pastors.
Sorry, but that isn’t true. I work in a business that regularly sees tax returns and knows the background of the people. You are 100% WRONG
Churches are built on what sells not sanctifies, size over substance, trends over truth, relatability of the messenger over reliability of the message, conservative policies over Christ’s promises, preaching with a therapeutic bent not a theologic base and convenience over conviction. In the Roys’ podcast on Leadership, Lance Ford basically states that mega church plants churches to create worship experiences without roots in the community. They use man-made-models of leadership verses a Christ-Centered, Biblically-Based, God-Glorifying and a Discipleship-Driven approach. As I get older, my perspectives are changing.
What if the church put as much energy into the congregation as they do for 60-90 minute service? Why energy into programs not people? It is a production It is why so many are misguided. These systems that are built are destroying pastors and people. These production based ministries make authenticity impossible. These stories will keep coming. It is why I struggle with the idea of restoring the church. Pragmatism needs an A.D. 70’s approach if restoration is possible.
This “pastor” got his start at Redemption World Outreach Center aka Redemption in Greenville SC under “Apostle” Ron & “Pastor” Hope Carpenter. which explains a lot. And I’ll just leave that right there. If you know, you know. Enough said.
The Most High God is uncovering what most think will be hidden forever. As awful as this is, it’s a good thing that the truth is out. I applaud the staff that left and hope the folks in the pew do also. The circus that is the modern day Christian church has reached it’s expiration date.
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