Missional Worship: Increasing Attendance by Expanding the Boundaries of Your Church, by Cathy Townley. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2011. 134 pp. $21.99.
Cathy Townley seeks to offer a new perspective on the practical role of worship in the church as a means to growing its attendance. There is an ever-growing discussion on the topic of the missional church, but Townley, an ordained pastor in the United Methodist church as well as a worship and evangelism coach, adds to the conversation that the method to increase worship attendance and expand the boundaries of our churches is to adopt a worship lifestyle (2). Townley argues throughout the book that our congregants must first and foremost live a life of worship, invite others into our faith communities, and then proceed to create a relevant atmosphere in our churches to welcome and sustain the new worshipers.
Townley structures her book in two parts, dividing what she calls the spiritual and the practical aspects comprising this framework of worship practice (2). In her writing, she focuses on using worship to grow attendance; however, worship in her context is the practice of spiritual disciplines, the daily devotional worship throughout the week. Townley argues that the role of the worship leader also should not necessarily be vocational in the sense that we think of it today. She argues that today most music ministers see the worship service as the main aspect of church life; however, although the worship service is important, “it isn’t the goal or even the main focus. . . . That’s backwards. Daily life is the goal because that’s where we actually live out our faith. . . . Jesus leads us outside the church walls . . . [where] Christ draws us closer to him through our spiritual practices” (11). Townley focuses in the second part of the book on “how to incorporate the spiritual disciplines into the worship service” (12). In this part she details what should be the work of the worship leader: facilitating the experience (104). This experience includes the corporate use of spiritual disciplines, including sitting “intentionally in silence [to] listen for what God says” (104). She argues that it takes “significant personnel working a lot of hours to create and implement this type of experience each week” (87). This work includes planning, using teams of believers and nonbelievers, and choosing songs that work, because “only ‘what works’ to help your particular mission field experience God in worship matters. Worship services are arts driven. It is how God communicates with us” (74). These elements include the transitions, which are necessary in avoiding disjunct and chaotic flow, “making it hard to enter into God’s presence” (96). Another important topic she addresses is lighting; turning the lights down “creates ambiance without saying a word,” as well as bringing focus to the leader and the altar (100).
Furthermore, Townley argues that the more familiar the worship leader is with the order of service, the easier it is for them “to relax and relate to God’s presence as God reveals God’s self to the community in the moment” (85). The first goal of the worship service is transformation: “Transformation is what we’re after in the public worship service: that those who are there have an experience of Christ so strong that they’ll consider following Him right then” (104). This following Christ back into the world is the aspect that Townley argues is most important for growing the worship attendance, as the worshipers go out and invite others into the faith community.
Townley bases her whole set of practices on the life of worship that she describes in the first chapter; however, throughout the book she defines worship in numerous ways, all differing from the first idea of a life of devotion and spiritual disciplines. Most of the definitions of worship she provides are vague, as are many of the key points that she attempts to make. To further complicate the reading, Townley is not clear on her definition of the worship leader; in some cases it is the up-front person. In other cases, the entire congregation is the worship leader. The absence of distinction regarding the focal points of her book renders many of her practical suggestions and conclusions less useful to the reader.
In the same vein, not only are the definitions inadequate, the understanding of her worship philosophy is fragmented. This book is by far a practical book; Townley does not claim it to be anything different. However, strewn throughout her chapters resembling coaching sessions are bits of her philosophy of worship. It is quite difficult to discern what her motives are behind the practices she promotes; through an encompassing evaluation, however, the bits of her philosophy can be pieced together, although imperfectly. A stronger philosophical foundation would be quite beneficial before diving into the practical suggestions, especially so the readers can be aware of whether or not these practices complement their philosophies of worship.
To further complicate the flow of reading throughout her book, the informal writing style used lends itself to very weak arguments and incessantly repetitive statements. Furthermore, on every page there is an interruption of flow, in which she gives the reader a task to follow, and only on few occasions do these tasks actually correspond with the idea that she is attempting to convey; these interruptions consist of googling images such as spider webs or venus fly-traps, watching videos on YouTube of fruit, or listening to urban hip-hop songs. In the same manner, she uses these page breaks to include times of reading Scripture; occasionally these readings correlate with her argument. However, they unfortunately function the same as the aforementioned unnecessary interruptions, taking away from their importance to her stated topic.
What is most troubling about this book is that not a single time throughout her writing does Townley use scriptural support, although in the introduction she states, “when I speak on worship in this book, Jesus is my focus” (4). On the same page, she states that she is “aware that practical applications for growth aren’t much different from how they were in biblical times” (4). Whether that is true or not, Townley fails to provide the biblical support to her methods of church growth. Even more, her rare use of citations hardly supports her arguments or lend to the credibility of her methods and coaching. Any book approaching the topic of the church and worship, even from a practical viewpoint, should be supported throughout with scriptural support.
Townley approaches the topic of growing the worship attendance of churches from a narrow viewpoint, as she mainly discusses her experiences with emergent churches. In attempt to avoid being classified by either the attractional or church growth models, Townley offers her argument to the missional world in a vague and informal manner. If one is searching for coaching in a how-to format on how to bring in numbers, this may be the book to check out; however, if one is looking for well-supported, Scripture-based arguments as to how to effectively reach the community, this book will not match those criteria.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary