Keeping it Personal
By Wheaton M. Bailey
Over the course of my life, as well as my journey as a Christian, I have had the privilege of attending many different churches that all have their own versions of what worship should look like. Some were large, corporate megachurches that valued marketing more than the people they were marketing to, while others were smaller, more intimate churches with staff that spent all of their time on meeting and ministering to congregation members. Mountaintop Community Church is a very interesting middle-ground between these.
Contemporary, Without the Strings
Mountaintop Church is small, despite turning twenty-nine years old in 2021. Founded as Mountaintop Community Church by Reverend Bill Elder, attendance declined after Elder suffered a stroke and eventually left the church. Now, the church has implemented some successful changes, including the new shorter name, in order to put itself back on a path of growth.
The church focuses on a contemporary worship style, exemplifying the ethos and telos that Edward Phillips identified as the “Revival Meeting” character type of Protestant Worship (Phillips 2020 31). Mountaintop utilizing modern worship production technology and equipment, such as haze (fog) machines, LED walls, projectors, and professional sound systems, to pursue a telos of reaching into the Birmingham area and teaching as many people as possible, as stated in their tagline, “FOR BHM.” Mountaintop is very focused on missional evangelism, and leads mission trips, food drives, and other forms of service to pursue that goal. The church also utilizes social media marketing to spread the Word of God, and to advertise events that the church holds on a weekly basis. Many megachurches let these modern technological tools become a major part of the church’s ability to function, while Mountaintop is more responsible with them.
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Mountaintop began by moving into a completely online capacity, recording and live-streaming each service. The church spent time upgrading its equipment to provide a better online experience, since that was their only experience during the early parts of 2020. As time went on, the safety guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were relaxed, and in May 2020, they began meeting on-campus again, with limited seating that had to be reserved before the service.
An example of Mountaintop’s conscious choice to keep the intention behind worship clear is their decision to include a cross as part of their stage, as seen below. Many contemporary churches avoid including a cross in their worship settings in order to signal that they are not traditional. In several respects Mountaintop was initially modeled on Willow Creek Community Church which emphasized the absence of a cross in tours of its building (Hoover 2000, 145). Yet the exclusion of the a cross can imply that worship should be directed at the worship leaders and members of the band. By including a cross at stage left, Mountaintop gives the congregation the option of directing their attention and worship towards the cross as a representation of Christ.
Keeping It Personal
Mountaintop Community Church places heavy emphasis on the staff’s ability and responsibility to minister to the members of the congregation. According to this value, the staff spends a large amount of their time during the week in meetings with members of the congregation. Personally, I had several opportunities to meet with Jake Davis, the media and teaching pastor at Mountaintop. The staff are very friendly, and always make a point of moving into the church lobby after each service, so that they may meet new members and catch up with longtime members of Mountaintop. I was able to meet Pastor Carter McInnis, the head pastor of Mountaintop after my first service attending the church, when he sought me out after hearing that I was a first-time visitor. The staff members took the time to get to know myself and my friends, and made sure to invite us back for another week, and even offered to take some of us to lunch.
The Significance of Worship at Mountaintop
At first glance, Mountaintop Community Church might seem to be just another church following the lead of the major American megachurches, such as Passion City Church, Church of the Highlands, and Elevation Church. But the details that set Mountaintop apart are the intimacy that is seen in the worship services. The worship staff take careful time to select a song set list that conveys the same points as the message for the week. The staff prays over the songs to make sure that the set list will faithfully advance the Kingdom of God. While many churches will let worship production turn the main focus of the service, Mountaintop carefully keeps the balance between production and reverence. The worship itself is a testament to the reverence that can still be seen in a modern, contemporary service. The services still put God at the center, and the messages from Pastor McInnis are always centered around the Word. Mountaintop is characterized almost completely by the community that is housed within: The congregation members are just as instrumental to the worship as the staff members.
Location: 225 Centerview Dr, Birmingham, AL 35216
Services Observed: Easter Sunday, April 11, April 18
Video Archives: Mountaintop Community Church, YouTube https://youtube.com/c/MountaintopChurch
“Home – Mountaintop Church.” 2021. Mountaintop Church. April 5, 2021. http:// mountaintopchurch.com.
Hoover, Stuart M. 2000. “The Cross at Willow Creek: Seeker Religion and the Contemporary Marketplace.” In Religion and Popular Culture in America, edited by Jeffrey H. Mahan and Bruce David Forbes, 145-59. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
“MountainTop Community Church.” 2011. Bhamwiki. last updated January 5, 2011. https://www.bhamwiki.com/w/MountainTop_Community_Church
Phillips, L. Edward. 2020. The Purpose, Pattern, and Character of Worship. Abingdon Press.
Wheaton M. Bailey ‘22 was a student in Christian Worship: History & Theology in Samford University’s Department of Biblical and Religious Studies in spring 2021.
Published May, 20, 2021.