On Sunday, Venue Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee welcomed its lead pastor, Tavner Smith, back to the pulpit after reports of an affair forced him to take a brief sabbatical.
The non-denominational church, which was one of Outreach Magazine’s 2015 fastest growing churches in the U.S. and once boasted an estimated weekly attendance of 2,000 people, has not only experienced a drop in attendance but also the resignation of several staff members in the wake of Smith’s inappropriate relationship with a married woman.
Smith and his wife separated in January of 2021 and filed for divorce a few months later. The couple had been married for over 15 years and share three daughters together.
Volunteers caught Venue Church’s pastor by surprise at his house in November of 2021 with a female church employee, Smith’s personal assistant. She was wearing only a towel, and Smith was in his boxers. When questioned about it, Smith said that they had spilled food on their clothes.
One of the volunteers said that the incident confirmed prior suspicions she had regarding Smith having an affair with a an employee of the church. Smith denied the rumors.
RELATED: After Pastor’s Alleged Affair, Venue Megachurch Struggles to Survive
A video of Smith kissing the same woman in public later surfaced in December of 2021, sparking people to call for the pastor’s resignation, but he refused to comply.
Since then, multiple staff members have stepped down, a campus has closed, and Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that attendance is low.
Smith has also been accused of misusing church tithes to fund his lavish lifestyle, and church leadership has been accused of physically and mentally abusing some members.
Strict Accusations by a Former Church Employee
Former church employee Colt Chandler Helton wrote on Facebook this past December, “In hindsight I taught the ‘Iranians how to make nuclear weapons,’ I gave a man who had very very bad intentions the ability to make a mega church.”
Helton gave nine reasons why he left Venue Church, concluding that “there could not be a more dangerous man and or organization than Pastor Tavner and Venue Church. He currently has cheated on his wife with his assistant and lead worship leader. His staff have almost all quit and he refused to step down. This is in part due to no elder system or any leadership to force him out.”
Smith Apologizes; Admits to ‘Inappropriate Relationship’
A livestream video hosted on the church’s Facebook page, which has since been deleted, showed Smith back on stage after being absent for the entire month of January and some of December.
“What’s up Venue Church,” Smith joyfully yelled as he spoke during the church’s morning worship service introduction and offering call. “Good to see you guys here at the eleven o’clock. I’m so, so honored to be with you.”