Some of Destiny Church's most senior members have defected, upset at Bishop Brian Tamaki's calls to hand over money for his "City of God" in South Auckland.
The Sunday Star-Times has learned that Tamaki's obsession with building the new facility in Druces Rd, Manukau, has caused a schism in the church, with some of his staunchest followers deserting him.
Janine Cardno, the church's media spokeswoman for many years, left last year, along with Paul and Michelle Hubble, who had been with Tamaki since 1990.
A source who has studied Destiny says the departures are a blow to the history and reputation of the church.
"The Cardnos and Hubbles were crucial people in the very early days. They were part of the original 26 families who came up to Auckland and helped to build the church . . . they've been incredibly faithful and were a link to the wider community."
The source said more Pakeha families were leaving Destiny, as it focused increasingly on building its Maori and Pacific Island membership.
A function was held to officially open the new church on New Year's Eve, but the move will not be complete until the end of March.
Tamaki has called on church members to contribute $1000 each to help renovate the warehouse that will house church facilities, including a school.
The departure of Cardno is seen as particularly significant. She and her late husband, Neil, moved from Rotorua to help establish Destiny in Auckland in the 1990s, and Neil, a former TVNZ employee, pioneered Destiny television.
The church helped Janine through her grief after Neil died in a road accident in 2005. She was the public mouthpiece for Tamaki, defending him against criticisms over his lavish lifestyle. She declined to comment on her reasons for leaving.
The Hubbles also declined to comment, but a close friend said they had become disillusioned with Tamaki's vision for the "City of God", as it seemed he was putting buildings ahead of people.
"There was an announcement made that they wanted everybody to raise $1000. They weren't happy about that, because they could see families in the church that would struggle to raise that amount of money.
"They personally knew of couples who were thinking, ‘We can't raise the money, what can we sell?' You shouldn't have to do that. At what point do flash buildings become more important than actually looking after those people?"
In a New Year's Eve sermon, Nelson's Destiny Church pastor Martin Daly said: "I love reading the Destiny Church Facebook page [and families] going without Christmas presents 'cos they're saving up for their $1000 grand slam offering for the promised land that's gonna bless the people of South Auckland."
The Hubbles, who have joined Auckland's Life church, another "prosperity' church which has picked up several Destiny defectors, were some of Tamaki's closest supporters from his Rotorua days. Paul Hubble, a banker, looked after the Destiny finances in Rotorua. Their friend said they were concerned Destiny was moving to a large new venue at a time when it wasn't even filling the smaller church.
Destiny's new media spokesman, Richie Lewis, said it was sad to see Cardno and the Hubbles go, "but people join churches and leave churches of their own free will, people make decisions for themselves . . . and that's fully respected".
Asked if there had been "white flight", he said: "We've always been a predominantly Maori and Pacific Island church, as to the reasons why people come and go, that's their personal choice."
He confirmed people had been asked to donate $1000 each for the new facility.
"The move to South Auckland is going to cost money. We're not asking or begging the government for any of it . . . it's up to people what they want to contribute."
- Sunday Star Times