Youth ministry founder under investigation amid 'inappropriate' relationship allegations

Mike Pilavachi speaks at Soul Survivor youth conference in 2017.
Mike Pilavachi speaks at Soul Survivor youth conference in 2017. | YouTube/Soul Survivor

The founder of a popular Christian youth festival in the United Kingdom has stepped back from his role as a Church of England-led investigation looks into allegations of "inappropriate messages" and "inappropriate" relationships with young people. 

Rev. Canon Mike Pilavachi, 65, the charismatic evangelist who founded the Soul Survivor charity, is the focus of a new safeguarding investigation launched by the Church of England in conjunction with the Diocese of St Albans, according to a statement from the Soul Survivor Watford. 

Launched in 1993, Soul Survivor was known for holding summer festivals that tens of thousands of teenagers attended. Those festivals stopped in 2019, and the organization now runs events for all ages from its church in Watford. 

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"Non-recent safeguarding concerns relating to Mike Pilavachi have been reported to the national Church and, working closely with the Diocese of St Albans, these are currently being looked into according to the Church of England House of Bishops guidelines," a joint statement from the Church of England National Safeguarding Team, the St. Albans Diocese, and the Soul Survivor Watford trustees reads. 

"Soul Survivor Watford Trustees were informed this week and have since been working with the National Safeguarding Team and the diocese. It was mutually agreed with Mike that he would step back from all ministry, while this investigation is carried out. We would like to stress that the police are not involved; this is not a criminal investigation and Mike has not been suspended. It is also not currently a clergy disciplinary matter." 

Pilavachi was given an award in 2020 from Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at Lambeth Palace in recognition of "his outstanding contribution to evangelism and discipleship amongst young people in the United Kingdom."  

David Mitchell, the acting chair of the Soul Survivor Watford board of trustees, said in a statement, "[n]othing should be inferred from Mike stepping back."

"[T]his is perfectly normal following the start of an investigation that has not reached a conclusion," Mitchell said. "We mutually agreed this was the best step because of the importance of correct procedures being followed." 

The investigation follows an April 4 report from The Telegraph outlining allegations that Pilavachi had "inappropriate intimate relationships" with young people participating in Soul61, a Christian gap year project that trains young adults as disciples. The outlet reports that the allegations span several years. 

While the joint statement from Soul Survivor Watford, the Church of England and the diocese was scant on details, it stressed that no further information could be released about the allegations while the investigation is underway. However, the statement assured that "support is being offered to all those involved." 

"The staff of the church have been given information in this statement and are here to support you but please be aware they do not have further details and cannot comment on what is happening," the statement adds. 

"We really appreciate your prayers for all those involved at this very difficult time and we do ask, for the sake of all those involved, that you do not speculate or discuss this more widely, including on social media while the process runs its course."  

There is no timetable for when the investigation will conclude. Soul Survivor Watford will continue to operate amid the investigation. 

The investigation is independent from Soul Survivor Watford and its trustees, but the trustees will assist with investigative matters if needed, according to Mitchell. 

"We understand this may be very difficult information to absorb. We will be emailing these statements to those in our church family and making them available on our church website," Mitchell wrote.  

"I want to reassure you that whilst the staff of the church cannot comment further and do not have further details they are here to support and care for you. We are going to keep our focus on Jesus and what he is calling us to do."

Nicole Alcindor is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at:

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