The Rev. Perry Noble, who started NewSpring Church nearly 20 years ago, is no longer its senior pastor.
Early in Sunday's 9:15 a.m. service, Executive Pastor Shane Duffey announced that Noble had been removed as pastor on July 1, after the NewSpring board of directors had "made a difficult and painful decision" to make a change.
Duffey said the termination by the state's largest and richest church came after Noble "had made unfortunate choices," and that the board members had confronted Noble on numerous occasions regarding his use of alcohol.
The announcement came three days after a closed-door, unscheduled meeting of church officials that fueled rumors throughout the community that the 45-year-old Noble was at odds with church hierarchy.
Noble, in a statement read by Duffey, said "I wish this were a joke, and part of a sermon illustration, but it is true."
He also confirmed an "overuse of alcohol," in the statement, adding that he has "come to depend on alcohol instead of Jesus." He also said that there was no infidelity or abuse in his marriage.
"No one is more disappointment in me than I am in myself," said Noble, the only senior pastor in the 16-year history of the church.
Noble also manages a personal blog/website (perrynoble.com) that he once used to convey frequent messages about his personal life and Christian topics. The blog has grown quiet in recent months. Noble made 51 posts in the first three months of 2016 but made only nine in April, six in May, and none in June or July.
Duffey announced that Clayton King will serve as interim senior pastor. Cooper delivered the primary message Sunday morning.
Noble was one of 22 pastors listed on the church's website. In addition to the 17 campus pastors, Noble led a staff that includes Brad Cooper as executive pastor of ministries, Duffey, Howard Frist as executive pastor of campuses, and Michael Millikin as executive pastor of operations.
NewSpring unofficially began in 1998 when Noble, an Anderson native, began holding Bible study on Wednesday nights at his apartment in Anderson. Eight people came to the first meeting. Within six weeks, the crowd had grown to 150.
The next summer, Noble was at a restaurant when a friend asked him: "What would you do for God if you knew you could not fail?"
Noble's answer: Start NewSpring Church.
The church's first service was held on Jan. 16, 2000, in the Sullivan Building at Anderson University. About 115 people showed up.
The congregation grew tremendously after that, and by 2004, NewSpring was building a campus near Concord Road and S.C. 81 North in Anderson.
The congregation moved into the 2,460-seat auditorium there in 2006, and the church's membership soon doubled from 4,000 to 8,000 people.
Now, NewSpring has 17 campuses across South Carolina and more than 30,000 people attend its weekly services. In 2015, NewSpring's income was more than $64 million, according to an annual report posted the church's website.
NewSpring is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, but leaders of the organization have criticized Noble over the church's use of secular music. Noble's messages have also been controversial at times — including one last year in which he stated that the Ten Commandments were not commandments.
A similar controversy erupted in 2009, when the NewSpring band opened the Easter service with the rock song "Highway to Hell."