(RNS) — A North Carolina megachurch, known for its popular music and charismatic pastor, has left the Southern Baptist Convention.
In a letter sent to the SBC’s Executive Committee in Nashville and to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, Charlotte-based Elevation Church said it was “withdrawing its affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention effective immediately.”
The letter was published by Baptist Press, an official SBC publication. A spokesman for the North Carolina Baptist Convention confirmed receiving the letter.
“We have no plans to make a public announcement on this decision — we have too much to do in reaching a world that needs the love of Jesus,” the letter reads. “Should your Credentials Committee decide to make this decision by Elevation public, we will only respond with a copy of this letter to anyone inquiring about the notification.”
Elevation did not respond to a request for comment.
The SBC’s Credentials Committee is charged with determining if churches are in “friendly cooperation” with the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. That cooperation includes giving to SBC causes and closely following the SBC’s doctrine.
Earlier this year, five congregations — including Saddleback Church, which was one of the largest SBC churches in the country — were expelled from the SBC for having women pastors.
The SBC’s statement of faith says only men can hold that office.
During their recent annual meeting, Southern Baptists passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would bar churches that have women pastors of any kind. That amendment must be ratified in 2024.
By some estimates, about 2,000 SBC churches have women serving in pastoral roles — including supporting roles like associate pastors, children’s pastors and music ministers.
Elevation’s letter gives no reason for the church’s departure after more than two decades in the SBC. However, Holly Furtick, wife of Elevation pastor Steven Furtick, is described as a church co-founder and preaches on a regular basis. A number of SBC leaders, including prominent seminary President Albert “Al” Mohler, believe the Bible bars women from preaching in worship services.
According to data submitted by the church to the SBC, Elevation averaged 10,185 attendees each week and had $103 million in donations for 2021. The church gave $10,000 to the SBC’s Cooperative Program.
A recent study found that Elevation is one of four megachurches whose songs dominate the market for contemporary worship music.
Ryan Burge, a political scientist from Eastern Illinois University, noted that Saddleback Church and Elevation — which reportedly baptized 1,725 people in 2021 — accounted for about 2.5% of the baptisms for the entire SBC, which has more than 40,000 churches.
The SBC has seen declining baptism and membership numbers for more than a decade. The SBC lost nearly half a million members from 2021 to 2022 and 1.5 million in the last three years. In 2022, the SBC reported 13.2 million members, down from 16.3 million in 2006.
Despite leaving the SBC, Elevation plans to keep partnering with Southern Baptist churches, Chunks Corbett, a leader at Elevation, wrote.
“Please know that our withdrawal from affiliation in no way means that we will withdraw from praying for you and your ministries and mission work in the future — we are all on the same side!”