Church of the Highlands Associate Pastor Mayo Sowell Leaving to Launch His Own Church

Church of the Highlands associate pastor Mayo Sowell (left), wife Kia, and senior Pastor Chris Hodges announce the Sowells are leaving COH to launch their own church in Atlanta.

Mayo Sowell first heard the call almost three years ago. God’s call. It stirred him and wouldn’t quiet. Even after the former Auburn linebacker—and former drug dealer, he comfortably shares—responded. Or thought he did.

Sowell was still in the nascent stages of ministry at the Church of the Highlands, Alabama’s largest church. After initially hearing the call, he agreed to open the church’s first campus in west Birmingham, along with wife Kai, at A.H. Parker High School in September 2018–even though he hadn’t often preached.

“You’ll figure it out,” he was told by Church of the Highlands founder and senior pastor Chris Hodges.

“I was like, ‘God, this is it,’” recalls Sowell, who guided the campus through an opening that also stirred a few critics (he now co-pastors the Uptown campus at the BJCC Theater). “This is what He was preparing me for.”

Yet the voice would not quiet.

In late 2019, Hodges asked Sowell to become the church’s student executive pastor overseeing ministry for middle-, high-school, and college members, and heading the annual MOTION Conference for youth. As such, Sowell became the first Black member of Hodges’ lead team. His inner circle.

“Now, I’m like, ‘This is it again,” Sowell is saying. “I’m doing everything I can for where God is trying to take me.”

Yet the voice… “I never got the release,” he says. “I felt, ‘Wow, it’s still coming.’”

Finally, two months ago, Sowell conferred with Hodges again. “I started feeling [the voice] come back.”

“You can’t get it off your heart, can you?” Hodges asked.

“No, sir,” responded Sowell.

“God,” Hodges said, “is calling you be a senior pastor.”

This fall, Mayo and Kai Sowell will leave Church of Highlands and build a new church in Atlanta, in Cobb County, a sprawling suburb north of downtown. It will be called LIIV Atlanta—LIIV being an acronym for love, integrity, influence, and victory. The church will not be affiliated with Church of the Highlands.

They hope to open in the fall of 2022.

“We’re obviously very excited for him,” Hodges told me. “One of the joys of a church like ours is that some of the people we raise and pour into don’t stay here. They go out and make a difference in other places.

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SOURCE:, Roy S. Johnson