By Sarah G. Brady
At the Church of the Highlands the singing of worship songs is regarded as the gateway to the heart. Music is used at the beginning of every service to usher the congregation into the presence of Jesus. Following the sermon, singing also concludes every service. I observed worship at Church of the Highlands in spring 2021 through its online platform.
Church of the Highlands has over twenty locations in Alabama and is one of the ten largest megachurches in the United States (Fieldstadt 2018). It was founded on February 4, 2001, by Pastor Chris Hodges. Since a couple of its campus are only fifteen minutes drive from Samford University, I had a great interest in studying this church and how it grew to have over fifty thousand in weekly attendance across its various locations (Garrison 2019). Highlands is a non-denominational megachurch and is affiliated with the Association of Related Churches. One of the many services I observed online was entitled “Passionate about God,” which took place on January 3, 2021, at the Grandview campus. Worship at Highlands has many characteristics of the Pentecostal of “Praise and Worship” tradition as identified by Scholars such as L. Edward Phillips (2020) and Swee Hong Lim and Lester Ruth (2017). Singing praise to God is an important way of encountering God’s presence and preaching often focused on bringing sinners to Christ.
Worship as the Centerpiece of Church of the Highlands
Worship in the form of sung praise is of upmost importance to Church of the Highlands. Worship is sacramental for the congregation and considered to be the greatest offering that they can give the Lord. Through the leadership’s choice of songs, including the composition of new ones, Highlands focuses much of its church service on worship. Singing took up twenty-seven minutes of the seventy-minute-long January 3 service.
According to Highlands, worship is an opportunity to express our love and devotion to Christ through songs and words. They often include scripture reading and prayer in the song flow. Highlands focuses on the healing of Jesus in their songs such as the song “House of Miracles,” (Brandon Lake), which was sung on the Sunday I observed. The worship pastor encouraged people that miracles are still happening today and that the house of miracles is us. He stated that if the congregation has anything that needs a miracle, “God is going to do it.” The worship pastor also declared that no matter what we face in 2021 God is working all things for the good of those who love him.
Evangelical Goal and Charismatic Character
At Highlands the goal of the service as a whole appears to be outreach and converting the lost to Jesus. After almost every Sunday message there is a call for worshipers to respond by accepting Jesus into their hearts by the repetition a prayer in which they recognize their sin and repent for salvation. They often ask people raise their hands or stand up after the prayer if they made the decision that particular Sunday.
There are also many signs of Pastor Hodges’s Pentecostal and charismatic background in the service. In worship they often speak of “believing in God for something,” “declaring that God will do things.” They believe in doing things “for” God and by this often put a lot of power into the hands of humans. They also appear to subtly emphasize aspects of a “word of faith” theology, where the confession of belief in something has an effect on God ensuring that it becomes true.
When considering Phillips’s character types for worship Church of the Highlands would fall under the category of “Pentecostal Worship.” Even though they are known as a non-denominational church much of their theology and worship style is rooted in Pentecostalism. Pentecostal services entail lots of singing and this is the case for this church. Singing is continuous with several songs after one another without interruption (Phillips, 2020).
Worship is the gateway to the heart according to Church of the Highlands. They use music to usher in the presence of Jesus in the beginning of the sermon and in the end to close every sermon by singing. Something I found again and again researching was the amazing ability of Highlands media and worship team to create new and interactive services every week. Because worship is one of the most important thigs to them, they spend a lot of time to prefect the craft to make it the best it can be for their congregation. Church of the Highlands has been so interesting to research firsthand and see the unique origins of the church as a megachurch that has grown so fast in so little time.
Church of the Highlands
Address (campus of observed service): 3660 Grandview Pkwy, Birmingham, AL 35243
Fieldstadt, Elisha. 2018 “America’s Biggest Megachurches, Ranked.” CBS News, November 26, 2018. https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/30-biggest-american-megachurches-ranked/
Garrison, Greg. 2019. “Church of the Highlands Weekly Attendance Surpasses 50,000; Fultondale Campus Opens.” AL.com December 13, 2019. https://www.al.com/news/2019/12/church-of-the-highlands-weekly-attendance-surpasses-50000-fultondale-campus-opens.html
Lim, Swee Hong. Lovin’ on Jesus: A Brief History of Contemporary Worship. Nashville, TN: Abington Press.
Phillips, L. Edward. 2020. The Purpose, Pattern, & Character of Worship. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Sarah G. Brady ‘24 was a student in Christian Worship: History & Theology in Samford University’s Department of Biblical and Religious Studies in spring 2021.