The Church Of The Highlands Exposed, a megachurch based in Birmingham, Alabama, has grown rapidly since its founding in 2001. With its charismatic leadership, modern worship style, and extensive community outreach, it has attracted thousands of congregants. However, this rapid growth has not been without controversy. This article delves into some of the criticisms and issues surrounding the Church of the Highlands, offering a balanced examination of the challenges faced by one of America’s largest churches.

Rapid Expansion And Its Implications

Explosive Growth and Outreach

Since its inception, the Church Of The Highlands Exposed has expanded to multiple campuses across Alabama and beyond, with a weekly attendance of over 60,000. Its success can be attributed to its appealing services, which combine contemporary music, dynamic preaching, and a focus on practical life applications of Christian teachings. The church also emphasizes small groups, fostering a sense of community among its members.

Criticism of Expansion Tactics

However, this rapid expansion has raised concerns. Critics argue that the church’s growth strategy mirrors corporate franchising rather than traditional church planting. They point to aggressive marketing techniques, strategic placement of campuses, and the adoption of a business-like approach to church management. This has led some to question whether the church prioritizes growth over genuine spiritual nourishment.

Leadership Under Scrutiny

The Charismatic Leadership of Chris Hodges

Pastor Chris Hodges, the founder and senior pastor, is a central figure in the church’s narrative. His charismatic leadership and relatable preaching style have been instrumental in attracting a large following. Hodges is also known for his commitment to social issues, advocating for racial reconciliation and community service.

Controversial Social Media Activity

In 2020, Hodges faced backlash for his social media activity. Critics highlighted his “likes” and follows of controversial figures and posts on social media, suggesting they were at odds with the church’s public stance on racial and social justice. This incident sparked a debate about the alignment between the pastor’s personal views and the church’s teachings, leading to calls for greater transparency and accountability.

Financial Transparency and Ethical Concerns

Wealth and Resource Allocation

Megachurches often face scrutiny over their financial practices, and the Church of the Highlands is no exception. The church’s substantial income, generated through donations, book sales, and other ventures, has prompted questions about how these funds are utilized. While the church is involved in numerous charitable activities, including support for local food banks and community development projects, critics argue that more detailed financial disclosures are necessary.

Pastoral Lifestyle

Another point of contention is the lifestyle of the church’s leaders. Critics allege that the opulent lifestyles of some pastors contradict the message of humility and simplicity preached from the pulpit. This has led to a broader discussion about the ethical implications of wealth within religious leadership and the potential for conflicts of interest.

Cultural and Social Issues

Inclusivity and Diversity Challenges

The Church of the Highlands has made efforts to address issues of inclusivity and diversity. However, some congregants and observers feel that these efforts fall short. Despite initiatives aimed at fostering racial reconciliation, critics argue that the church’s leadership and membership remain predominantly white, raising questions about the effectiveness of its diversity initiatives.

LGBTQ+ Community Concerns

The church’s stance on LGBTQ+ issues has also been a focal point of criticism. The Church of the Highlands adheres to a traditional Christian view on marriage and sexuality, which has led to accusations of discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals. While the church maintains that it welcomes everyone, regardless of background or orientation, critics argue that its teachings and policies create an environment that is not fully inclusive.

Community Impact and Public Perception

Positive Contributions

Despite the controversies, the Church of the Highlands has had a significant positive impact on the community. Its numerous outreach programs, including addiction recovery, prison ministry, and educational support, have provided vital services to many in need. The church’s commitment to serving the local community has earned it praise from various quarters.

Public Relations and Image Management

However, managing public perception has been a constant challenge. The church’s leadership has had to navigate the complexities of maintaining a positive public image while addressing internal and external criticisms. This has involved a delicate balance of transparency, responsiveness to criticism, and proactive community engagement.

Theological and Doctrinal Debates

Contemporary Worship vs. Traditional Values

The Church of the Highlands represents a modern approach to worship that contrasts sharply with more traditional Christian practices. This contemporary style, characterized by upbeat music and casual dress codes, appeals to a younger demographic but has also drawn criticism from those who feel it undermines the reverence and solemnity of traditional worship.

Doctrinal Consistency and Interpretations

Another area of debate is the church’s doctrinal consistency. While the Church of the Highlands claims to adhere to Biblical teachings, some critics argue that its interpretations are selectively applied to suit modern sensibilities. This selective approach to doctrine, they contend, raises questions about the integrity and authenticity of its teachings.


The Church of the Highlands Exposed, like many large and influential religious institutions, is a complex entity that inspires both admiration and criticism. Its rapid growth and modern approach to worship have made it a model for contemporary evangelical churches, but have also exposed it to scrutiny on various fronts. From leadership controversies and financial transparency to inclusivity and doctrinal debates, the challenges faced by the Church of the Highlands highlight the ongoing tensions between modernity and tradition in the religious landscape.

As the church continues to navigate these issues, it remains a significant player in the American evangelical movement. Its ability to address and resolve these criticisms will likely determine its future trajectory and influence. Ultimately, the Church of the Highlands serves as a case study of the complexities of leading a large religious organization in the 21st century, balancing growth and outreach with the need for accountability and integrity.