By Braeden Duck, Jack Kellum, Carson Knauff, and Adam Carr
“Life change happens here,” said Wesley Winford, one of the Church of the Highlands’s creative directors in an interview we conducted with him. At Highlands many things are constantly happening behind the scenesto ensure that individuals can experience positive spiritual change. Whether it is through their tremendous number of small groups meeting throughout the week or the many teams required to produce during one of their Sunday morning church services, the people of the Church of the Highlands have worked diligently to make it one of the largest megachurches in the United States.
Founded in February 2001, with only thirty-four people, the Church of the Highlands purchased land for their first campus at the corner of Overton and Grants Mill roads in 2005. The center of the campus is a building complex with five main sections: the main auditorium that seats two thousand, two coffee shops, a second floor of classrooms, and their chapel. Housed in this building are five Sunday services, a worship night on the first Wednesday of the month, and a Saturday night prayer service. The Grants Mill campus not only supplies these services, but it also live streams the service’s sermons to all of their twenty-three campuses across the state of Alabama. This allows the church to share the message with their weekly membership attendance of 51,153 people.
It may seem like it would be difficult to feel connected while being one of two thousand members at one church location, but Highlands’s prime focus is “making sure everyone feels known, loved, accepted, and valued.” The carefully produced Sunday morning services have the prime goal of bringing people into a knowing relationship with God. The church focuses strongly on music. Its musical team, Highlands Worship writes and performs songs that are “easy to grasp for everyone,” but the songs also includes elements that are “thicker in content for those that want to dive deeper into theology” (Winford 2019).
Wesley Winford also explained that the set design, lights, and overall production is oriented to attract individuals that are not interested in traditional worship styles and especially those that are new to the church scene. The goal of the church’s aesthetic is to invoke joy, fun, and interest. With heavy focus on visual design, their creative team strives to intrigue individuals in the hopes that they will continue to attend so that they can start to develop their personal faith.
Production is not just for worship, but also for small groups. Highlands has stated that the purpose of small groups is to “bring people together”. Small groups are grounded in the theological conviction that we are supposed to be in community as seen by Jesus sending his disciples two by two and by God creating Adam, saying “it is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18 ESV) and then making Eve. These two examples show God did not create humanity to be alone. Highlands leaders understand this idea; therefore, they brought the idea of small groups to their church. Now the church has over six thousand groups across all of its campuses. Accordingly, a major part of its team’s effort goes to writing the church’s own curriculum. Curriculum is available to anyone over a range of subjects such as marriage, men’s group, outreach, frequently asked questions, starting points, and testimonial. These topics help people be prepared in a variety of ways. Highlands has many different types of groups and makes sure everyone has a place. When someone signs up for a small group they have a choice of which curriculum to follow and learn. There are many varieties of groups including Bible studies, “Freedom Groups” (groups designed for rehabilitation), college groups, leadership groups, and more.
Small groups at Highlands reflect many ideas found in the book Lead Small. Highlands trains all of its small group leaders through the “growth track” program. This book provides five faith tips and five things every group leader should strive to do. The book’s admonitions to group leaders begin with “Be Present.” The next step,”Create a safe place,” is all about making it home and where people can fit in. “Make it personal” goes back to the choice of picking your individualized group and getting connected. “Move them out” is all about the adventure of following Jesus. There is always something more and something else in store for their journey.
The five faith tips are “Navigate the Bible” (survey and locate Scripture), Personalize Scripture (memorize and apply), “Dialogue with God” (pray in private and public), “Articulate Faith” (share and defend), and “Worship with Your Life” (praise and give). “Navigate the Bible” is about all of Highlands pointing back to the word of God. From the worship, to the messages, and now the small groups it all revolves around the Bible. “Personalize Scripture” is all about having a connection to the Bible not just some book that does not apply to followers any more. “Dialogue with God” is all about praying and encouraging groups to pray and talk to God without ceasing. “Articulate faith” is showing that following Jesus is not just for Sundays but each and every second of every day. “Worship with your life” is about using what God has given us and giving it back to Him. Whether that’s song, breathe, talents, or even our lives it’s all about surrender and worship.
Small groups are a huge part of Highlands culture. Even in each sermon they encourage everyone to join and participate in some form of small groups so people get involved in something they have put a lot of effort into and prepared for their church. Small groups are necessary for the church and Highlands has created something important to their church.
With campuses all across the state of Alabama, more than six thousand small groups to choose from, and more than thirty thousand members. Church of the Highlands is one of the largest megachurches in the United States. Identifying as a modern, non-denominational church, Highlands takes the phrase “high production value” to a whole new level. The loud music and flashing lights envelop individuals in an experience in which they might discover the presence of God. Carefully crafted small groups provide a place where individuals are personally known and can share and grow in their faith. Church of the Highlands focuses on making sure everyone who steps through the door feels as if they have a place there and receives a professional-quality experience of Christianity.
Church of the Highlands, Grants Mill Campus
Address: 4700 Highlands Way, Birmingham, AL 35210
Congregation Organized: 2001
Current Site Opened: 2007
Affiliation: Association of Related Churches
Sources for Further Information:
Burch, Edward. “Church of the Highlands Continues to Grow.” WBMA. WBMA, September 1, 2015. https://abc3340.com/archive/church-of-the-highlands-continues-to-grow.
“Creative Worship Services Drawing the Young, but Some Worry It’s Going Too Far.” The Christian Post. July 1, 2018. https://www.christianpost.com/news/creative-worship-services-drawing-young-but-some-worry-going-too-far.html.
Winford, Welsey. Interview by Jackson Kellum. Church of the Highlands, Birmingham, Alabama. October 24, 2019.
Joiner, Reggie, and Tom Shefchunas. Lead Small: Five Big Ideas Every Small Group Leader Needs to Know. N.p.: Orange, 2012.
Joiner, Reggie, Kristen Ivy, and Elle Campbell. Creating a Lead Small Culture: Make Your Church a Place Where Kids Belong. Cumming, GA: Orange, 2014.
Published December 16. 2019