Pastor Tavner Smith’s Venue Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is seeking volunteers as several worshipers and employees have left the once-popular megachurch amid allegations Smith was intimately involved with a church staffer while in the process of divorcing his wife, Danielle.
“We have some exciting opportunities coming up and we want you to know all about them. If you want to take your next step here at Venue Church, then Connection Point is for you. Connection Point is your way to join our volunteer dream team,” Venue Church’s Chattanooga Campus Pastor Michael Patterson II announced in a video message played during a livestream broadcast on YouTube Sunday.
“At Connection Point, you’ll learn more about Venue, the gifts God’s given you and how you can use your gifts to help serve right here at Venue Church.”
A week earlier, the same video was played during the 9 a.m. service at the Chattanooga location, where “two-thirds of the roughly 150 cushioned chairs” in the church were “unfilled,” The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.
A Facebook page critical of the church, called “The Venue is NO Church,” published evidence on Sunday showing that Venue Church is now only operating from the Chattanooga campus on Lee Highway. The church previously listed a campus in North Georgia. But that location is no longer listed on the church’s website.
The Daily Beast recently reported that Smith had also been caught last November half-naked with the same employee at his home by volunteers who had planned to cheer him up with a surprise visit.
They allegedly found the employee dressed in a towel while Smith was in his boxers. The pastor claimed that they “had been making chili and hot dogs and gotten food on their clothes,” the publication recounted from an interview with an unidentified volunteer.
“I don’t think none of us was that dumb,” the volunteer told The Daily Beast. “If she dropped chili on her clothes, why are you in your boxers? Was you all like, throwing chili at each other?”
The former members and volunteers are still struggling with the fallout from their discovery last fall.
“Everyone used to say, ‘Venue is a cult, Venue is a cult,’ and I was like, ‘No, it’s not,’” the volunteer who witnessed the chili incident said. “And now as I look back, I’m like, ‘I don’t think I was in a Godly place.’”
Smith hasn’t publicly addressed the allegations against him. But he announced earlier this month that he is taking time off to get counseling and “spend time with God.”
In a Jan. 18 update on Smith, Patterson said: “He is in great spirits.”
“He’s prayed up. He’s diving into the word,” the Chattanooga campus pastor said. “He’s getting that fever to get back out here to us.”
In 2008, Smith was hired as executive student pastor at Redemption World Outreach in Greenville, South Carolina, a church led by Ron and Hope Carpenter. Smith’s website lists Carpenter as his mentor. In 2012, the Smiths moved to Chattanooga and eventually launched Venue Church, which became one of the fastest-growing congregations in America.
Those who have stayed at Venue Church have pushed back on those criticizing Smith, describing staff members’ attempts to get Smith to step down as an “insurrection,” according to The Chattanooga Free Press. Two staff members who spoke with the newspaper questioned the character and credibility of those who have criticized Smith and the church, suggesting that their accusations are untrue.