New Spring Church, one of the fastest growing churches in South Carolina and the nation, is expected to address speculation Sunday about whether its founding pastor, Perry Noble, is leaving.
Noble, 45, started the Anderson-based church less than 20 years ago. What began with an apartment-based Bible study with eight attendees has grown into a megachurch with 17 campuses across the state, including the Midlands, and more than 30,000 people attending weekly services.
Speculation about Noble's departure surfaced on social media late this week, but church officials have not answered questions about his status.
Suzanne Swift, a spokeswoman for the church, sent an email in response to the Independent Mail's questions.
"I would love to invite you to join us at church this Sunday to learn more from Perry and NewSpring Church," she said. "We will have services on Sunday at 9:15, 11:15, 4 and 6 at our Anderson Campus located at 2940 Concord Road. Let me know if you'll be able to be there!"
Noble did not respond to a request for comment Friday and no one answered the door at an Anderson house that, according to county property records, is listed in his name.
Multiple NewSpring members told the Independent Mail that they had no direct knowledge regarding Noble's employment or what might be discussed Sunday.
Williamston Town Councilman Rockey Burgess, a NewSpring member, said he had heard rumors only, and had no concrete information about Noble.
"I can tell you I certainly believe in what the church is doing as far as trying to reach people," he said. "It may not be traditional to some, but it reaches people who may not be reached otherwise."
NewSpring has location on Bush River Road and Sparkleberry Lane in Columbia, and on Augusta Road in Lexington, according to its website.
NewSpring is known as a place where it is OK for people to wear jeans and T-shirts to church, where contemporary music is a key part of worship, and where a thriving youth ministry reaches hundreds who may not respond to more traditional services.
State Rep. Anne Thayer said she and her family have been attending NewSpring since it was a "small church" with a congregation of 200.
"I can't imagine that Perry would leave," she said. "He has always said: 'I'm here and this is where I want to stay. If he left, it would be devastating."
Noble is known for his boldness for being unafraid to tackle any subject from the pulpit.
NewSpring is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention but has at times been criticized for some of Noble's messages and the church's use of secular music during services. In 2015, he got into hot water with the South Carolina Baptist Convention over a sermon in which he interpreted the Ten Commandments as 10 “sayings” or “promises” rather than commandments.
Noble also has spoken candidly about his personal struggle to overcome an addiction to pornography as a young man.
"People seem to relate more to my weaknesses than they do to my strengths as a communicator," Noble said in a 2013 interview with the Independent Mail. "So when I have told people that I struggled with pornography, that has freed a lot of men up — and women — to say, 'Well you know what, if he can say he struggled with it, then I can say I am struggling with it.' And it has helped us to help a lot of people."
Mary Geren, who has attended NewSpring for more than a decade, said Friday that she believes Noble has always been "up front and honest" with his flock.
"He has always said: 'This is who I am and this is how I see things,'" she said. "I think he has always been passionate about bringing people to Christ and he is inspiring. Some people tend to think that church is more about judging people than loving people, but I think his goal has always been to do what it takes to bring people to Christ."
Noble takes to social media to discuss his love of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and sometimes, to wade into politics.
Before February's "First in the South" GOP primary, Noble expressed "serious concern" that Donald Trump would win.
"C'mon y'all — we are better than that!!!!!" Noble tweeted.
And later: "Let's be honest — only the church can make America great again!!!"
Bill Rigsby, the longtime pastor at North Anderson Baptist Church, has known Noble for more than 15 years and officiated his wedding. Before starting NewSpring, Noble was a youth pastor at Rigsby's church.
"He is very strong biblically in what he desires to present," Rigsby said. "He is passionate about sharing with the lost — whether they have been ignored or have turned away from the Lord. His greatest strength is sharing with the lost."