Building that houses Chattanooga megachurch to be auctioned off

Staff photo by Wyatt Massey / Venue Church on Lee Highway in Chattanooga is pictured on Jan. 25, 2022.

The Lee Highway location of Venue Church will go up for auction later this month after the church defaulted on payments. The move comes almost six months after its North Georgia location closed.

Named one of the fastest growing churches in America by Outreach Magazine and LifeWay Research in 2015, Venue Church launched after Tavner Smith moved to Chattanooga from Greenville, South Carolina, and began hosting services in his living room for eight families. As of Monday, the church had more than 26,600 followers between its Facebook and Instagram accounts.

In early 2020, Venue took its services virtual as the pandemic surged across the country. Later, Smith's alleged involvement in inappropriate behavior with a church employee began to surface.

Several employees and volunteers were concerned about Smith's alleged yearslong relationship with a Venue employee while he was still married.

Nearly all of Venue's employees and volunteers left the church amid growing concerns about the church's leadership and management of its finances and after a video of Smith kissing a woman began to circulate through social media while he was in the process of divorcing his now ex-wife, Danielle.

After months of rumors and following the circulation of the video, Smith, a father of three, announced he would take a monthlong sabbatical.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported earlier this year that former members of the church were concerned about its culture, with Ron Phillips Sr., a prominent member of Chattanooga's religious community and pastor emeritus of Abba's House, saying, "Venue Church needs to begin to pray for what's next," during his message to Venue's congregation as he filled in for Smith during his sabbatical.

Upon his return to his pastoral duties in February, Smith apologized to his congregation with a tearful message. That same month, the Times Free Press reported on Venue's North Georgia location closing its doors.

"I'm sorry that I've put you through any embarrassment, heartache or confusion," Smith told the church in February. "I've wounded people. I've caused devastation that I know I can't ever take back. As your leader and your pastor, I've come to you to publicly acknowledge my mistakes and truly ask for forgiveness."

In an audio recording obtained by the Times Free Press, Smith admitted to kissing the woman seen in the video with him but said there was nothing sexual between them. Smith also admitted using church funds to pay for counseling.

Smith was still listed as the church's lead pastor on its website as of Monday, and sermons were posted on the church's YouTube channel as recently as seven days ago featuring Smith.

When the Times Free Press reached out to the church for comment, someone answered the phone and identified himself as lead care pastor John. He declined comment but offered prayers. When asked if there was another number to call for a comment, he continued to offer prayers.

The foreclosure records in court show Venue Church purchased its building from Hal Properties LLC. The auction to find a new owner will start at 2 p.m. on Aug. 24 at the steps of the Hamilton County Courthouse.

Contact La Shawn Pagán at lpagan@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter @LaShawnPagan.