Blake Hammon says he felt awkward when the Pinelake Church small-groups pastor called.
He and his young family had just visited the large church in Brandon, Mississippi, for the first time the previous Sunday, where “it felt like they were expecting us,” he says. The worship was “eye-opening,” and the sermon was “meaty and applicable” to real life.
But, an invitation to meet for coffee—with a guy? For conversation?
Hammon had been raised in church. But that was years ago, and he’d never heard anything about follow-up and one-on-one discipleship. He knew his life needed something, though, so the young executive took the dare and joined the pastor at a local café.
That decision began a life-changing spiritual growth spurt not uncommon to folks who attend Pinelake. For Hammon, discipleship and Bible study turned into friendship, community, leadership skills and spiritual maturity. Now, six years later, Hammon is a deacon. His marriage is flourishing; in fact, he and his wife, Hayley, are lay counselors with the church’s premarital counseling program. His daughter, Ady Beth, is growing in Christ. And Hammon is now himself a small-group leader.
“The way the church has poured into me has inspired me to do the same with others,” Hammon says. “It is just so wonderful to see a change in people’s lives.”
At first glance, Pinelake’s rapid growth among its five campuses in central Mississippi might not appear surprising, given that the Bible Belt state is known to have a religious population.
Indeed, “Mississippi has more churches per capita than any other state in the whole nation,” says Chip Henderson, senior pastor at Pinelake, where he’s served since 1999. But on any given Sunday, half the community skips church. “It’s cultural Christianity,” says Henderson. Folks “don’t understand how to have a personal relationship with God.”
The church teaches “inside-out living” in a genuine pursuit of God in all areas of life.
“We worship in spirit and truth,” says Henderson, who holds a Ph.D. in New Testament studies. “We seek to balance the truth of Bible teaching with life application. And we emphasize that the Spirit can change us. People know we’re real.”
Henderson says the church makes it a goal to be known for authenticity and love throughout the entire state. Pinelake’s first campus is near the Jackson suburb of Brandon. Two other campuses are in the nearby suburbs of Madison and Clinton. The last two sites are a couple of hours’ drive north, to the college towns of Starkville and Oxford.
The church has robust local, national and international missions programs, offering numerous opportunities for serving. It runs discipleship and leadership programs, and ministry internships and residencies. Pinelake also trains church planters and volunteers, partnering in church planting across the nation.
Henderson produces a Bible study plan for the entire congregation called the L3 Journal. (The church’s tagline is “Learn, Live, Lead,” hence the Ls.) Hammon says he appreciates that there’s a children’s version, as well. Individuals and small groups are encouraged to study and journal about the same passages each week, supporting each other’s spiritual journeys.
Those journeys can produce some dramatic tales. That’s why the church looks for ways for members to share the stories of their transformations, such as during the church’s baptisms. Watching someone bear witness at baptism to a changed made a strong impression on Hammon six years ago, motivating him to get serious about his own spiritual growth and spurring him toward the maturity out of which he serves others.
“Hearing that life story hit me real hard,” Hammon says. And now he’s learning, living, and leading.
Senior Pastor: Chip Henderson
Twitter: @Chip_Henderson, @PinelakeChurch
Affiliation: Baptist – Southern Baptist
A 2016 OUTREACH 100 CHURCH
Growth in 2015: +1,054 (12%)