Church of the Highlands Exposed: A Comprehensive Examination


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Church of the Highlands

The Church of the Highlands (COTH), based in Birmingham, Alabama, is one of the largest and fastest-growing churches in the United States. Founded in 2001 by Pastor Chris Hodges, the church has grown from a small congregation meeting in a high school auditorium to a multi-campus megachurch with tens of thousands of members. While its rapid growth and extensive outreach programs have garnered praise, the church has also faced criticism and controversy. This article aims to provide an in-depth examination of the Church of the Highlands, exploring its history, teachings, practices, controversies, and the impact it has had on its members and the wider community.

History and Growth

The Church of the Highlands was founded on February 4, 2001, by Chris Hodges and a small group of dedicated individuals. Initially, the church met in the Fine Arts Center of Mountain Brook High School in Birmingham. From its inception, the church focused on contemporary worship, practical Bible teaching, and community outreach, which quickly attracted a growing congregation.

Within a few years, the church outgrew its original location and began establishing additional campuses. Today, the Church of the Highlands operates multiple campuses across Alabama and has an average weekly attendance of over 60,000 people. The church’s rapid growth is often attributed to its strong leadership, effective use of technology, and commitment to meeting the needs of its community.

Beliefs and Teachings

The Church of the Highlands identifies itself as a non-denominational Christian church with a focus on evangelical beliefs. The church’s doctrine is rooted in the authority of the Bible and emphasizes the following core beliefs:

  1. The Trinity: The church believes in one God, eternally existing in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  2. Salvation: Salvation is viewed as a gift from God, received through faith in Jesus Christ. The church teaches that Jesus’ death and resurrection provide the means for humanity’s redemption.
  3. The Bible: The Bible is regarded as the inspired and infallible Word of God, serving as the ultimate authority for faith and practice.
  4. The Church: The Church of the Highlands believes in the importance of the local church as the body of Christ, emphasizing community, service, and discipleship.
  5. Baptism and Communion: The church practices believer’s baptism by immersion and observes communion as a symbolic remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice.

The teachings of the Church of the Highlands are conveyed through a mix of sermons, small group studies, and various ministry programs. The church places a strong emphasis on practical application of biblical principles, aiming to equip its members to live out their faith in everyday life.

Organizational Structure

The organizational structure of the Church of the Highlands is designed to support its large and diverse congregation. The church is governed by a board of trustees, which provides oversight and accountability. Pastor Chris Hodges serves as the Senior Pastor and primary visionary leader, supported by a team of associate pastors and staff members.

Each campus of the Church of the Highlands operates under the guidance of a campus pastor, ensuring that the church’s mission and values are consistently upheld across all locations. The church also relies heavily on volunteers, known as “Dream Team” members, who serve in various capacities to support the church’s operations and outreach efforts.

Outreach and Community Involvement

One of the hallmarks of the Church of the Highlands is its commitment to community service and outreach. The church runs several initiatives aimed at addressing the needs of its local and global communities:

  1. Highlands Dream Centers: These centers provide a range of services, including food distribution, medical care, job training, and support for individuals experiencing homelessness.
  2. Missions and Outreach: The church supports various mission projects both domestically and internationally, including disaster relief, church planting, and partnerships with other ministries.
  3. Small Groups: Small groups are a central component of the church’s strategy for fostering community and discipleship. These groups meet regularly to study the Bible, share life experiences, and serve the community together.
  4. Highlands College: An extension of the church’s ministry, Highlands College offers training and education for individuals seeking to pursue vocational ministry or enhance their leadership skills.

Controversies and Criticisms

Despite its successes, the Church of the Highlands has faced several controversies and criticisms over the years. These issues range from concerns about the church’s leadership and financial practices to debates over its theological stance and social positions.

Leadership and Governance

One area of controversy involves the church’s leadership and governance. Some critics have raised concerns about the concentration of power in the hands of a few leaders, particularly Pastor Chris Hodges. Questions have been raised about the transparency of decision-making processes and the level of accountability within the church’s leadership structure.

In 2020, Pastor Hodges faced criticism for his social media activity, including liking posts that were considered racially insensitive. This incident led to public outcry and prompted Hodges to issue an apology. The controversy highlighted broader concerns about the church’s approach to racial issues and its relationship with the diverse communities it serves.

Financial Practices

The Church of the Highlands’ financial practices have also come under scrutiny. As a large megachurch with substantial resources, questions have been raised about how the church manages its finances and allocates its funds. Critics have called for greater transparency and accountability in the church’s financial reporting.

In response to these concerns, the church has emphasized its commitment to financial integrity and stewardship. The church claims to undergo regular financial audits and to adhere to best practices for non-profit organizations. However, the specifics of these audits and the details of the church’s financial operations are not always made publicly available, leading to ongoing debates about transparency.

Theological Stance

The Church of the Highlands’ theological stance has also been a point of contention. As an evangelical church, it holds traditional views on various social issues, including marriage, sexuality, and gender roles. These views have sometimes put the church at odds with more progressive segments of society and have led to accusations of intolerance or discrimination.

Critics argue that the church’s teachings on these issues can be exclusionary and harmful, particularly to LGBTQ+ individuals and other marginalized groups. Supporters of the church, however, maintain that it is upholding biblical principles and that its teachings are rooted in a sincere commitment to faith.

Impact on Members

The impact of the Church of the Highlands on its members is a complex and multifaceted issue. Many members report positive experiences, citing the church’s supportive community, practical teaching, and meaningful opportunities for service. For these individuals, the church has been a source of spiritual growth, personal transformation, and social connection.

However, some former members and critics have shared negative experiences, including feelings of exclusion, pressure to conform, and disillusionment with the church’s leadership or practices. These accounts highlight the challenges that can arise in large, high-profile religious organizations and underscore the importance of addressing diverse perspectives within the church community.


The Church of the Highlands represents a significant and influential presence in the American religious landscape. Its rapid growth, extensive outreach programs, and commitment to practical faith have earned it a large and dedicated following. At the same time, the church’s controversies and criticisms reveal the complexities and challenges inherent in leading a large, dynamic congregation.

As the Church of the Highlands continues to evolve, it will need to navigate these challenges with transparency, accountability, and a commitment to its core values. Whether viewed as a model of effective ministry or a subject of critical scrutiny, the church’s story offers valuable insights into the contemporary religious experience and the ongoing quest for spiritual meaning and community in the modern world.

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