“Most churches are 99 percent behavior driven, not identity driven,” said Pastor Tavner Smith of the new The Venue Church, which will open its doors in its new location in September. “I believe it’s more important to know who you are, not what you do. If you know who you are, it will change what you do.”
Pastor Smith is aware that Chattanooga has plenty of churches already. “We know that 64 percent of people in Chattanooga go to church each Sunday,” he says. Yet the young pastor, who was raised in a church in Greenville, South Carolina, finds that many people are not happy with their church-going experiences. And he’s also aware that Americans are turning away from organized religion.
“In my opinion, many find a lack of grace in churches. Everyone watches for everyone else to fall, and then judges them,” he said. “But The Venue Church is truly a grace-driven church. We believe that God loves you right where you are. That doesn't mean He wants to keep you there, but the grace where God finds you will lead you into your fullest life.”
After first feeling the call to preach at age 16, Pastor Smith has had his own share of trials and tribulations, including clinical depression, and knows that each person who comes to worship with his congregation “walks through the door with their own struggles.” He points to three ideas that set The Venue Church apart.
“First, we tell people that God’s message is love. It is unconditional. Second, we believe that you are created for a purpose, and to live life to its fullest. God has plans for each person. And third, you can live your life to the fullest if you are part of a community, people who care about you and support you,” Pastor Smith explains.
The Venue Church, which has been meeting in a room at the Chattanooga Convention Center, will move to its permanent location, 5959 Shallowford Road, Suite 225, on Sept. 15. Sunday attendance has been rapidly growing as word of the church has spread, primarily through word-of-mouth and social media.
On its innovative website, the church lists 11 “Shockwaves,” which include statements such as “We Serve Like Crazy,” “We Honor Everyone,” and “We Leave No Man Behind.” “We are truly open to everyone,” Pastor Smith says. “We are nondenominational, loving and nonjudgmental. There is not a group of people we want or don't want.” And, adds the father of three small daughters, the church is very welcoming to families and children.
The church held a successful golf tournament fundraiser in July, and when it is established in the new location, will begin its outreach program, “Change For Chattanooga,” aimed at at-risk and homeless populations. The concept, Pastor Smith says, is to provide aid through relationships, jobs, schooling, housing, rehabilitation and partnerships.
Currently, services are being held at 10 a.m. inside the Chattanooga Convention Center, 1150 Carter Street in downtown Chattanooga, and on Thursdays at 7 p.m. at 6220 Shallowford Road in the Hamilton Place area.
“Everyone is always welcome to come and see if this is the community they have been searching for, “ said the pastor. For more information, call 637-7100.