Destiny Church is just getting stronger according to its Rotorua pastor, despite a reported split at the top of its Auckland-based leadership.
Church founder Bishop Brian Tamaki's right-hand man Richard Lewis has left Destiny to start his own Manukau City church. His exit follows the departures last year of long-serving members Paul and Michelle Hubble and media spokeswoman Janine Cardno.
Rotorua pastor Rewi Hare, however, has rejected suggestions the series of defections was a major blow to the church, which started in Rotorua. Mr Hare, who shares the pastor role with wife Davina, said that was just four people compared with the many more who had joined in recent months.
"They [had] a level of influence but [that's] nothing in comparison to what's been happening in the last couple of months," he said.
"There are more people coming in than going out."
He said 40 people had joined the Rotorua church in the past three months and it was highly active within the community.
The church had fed 500 people a couple of weeks ago and gave away firewood and groceries in response to recent business closures and job losses. At a family blessing day this weekend, every child would be given a Christmas present, he said.
"All that other stuff - it means way more," he said. "[We're] having the time of our lives, the church is going well ... people within the church are doing well."
Bishop Tamaki has remained silent about Mr Lewis' departure but a text from the church said "Richard Lewis has moved on from our employ. For any other comment you will need to contact Richard."
Associate Professor Peter Lineham of Massey University, who wrote the book Destiny: The Life and Times of a Self-Made Apostle, said Mr Lewis was an "absolutely loyal" servant to the church and Bishop Tamaki, and his departure was "very significant" - the first major Maori defection in Destiny Church's higher echelons.
Dr Lineham said the development of the Tamakis' City of God in South Auckland had "clearly been financially constrained" and "the speed of finishing has been exceptionally slow".
The site includes a 1600-seat auditorium, a chapel, an early childhood centre and a full school offering Cambridge exams. - Additional reporting New Zealand Herald.