Book: Come Celebrate! A Guide for Planning Contemporary Worship

Cathy Townley and Mike Graham. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995. $59.95.

The task of launching a contemporary worship service for a church can be a daunting challenge in and of itself. The greater challenge, however, lies in transforming the worship culture of a church without dividing the congregation into contemporary and traditionalist factions.

Come Celebrate! addresses these challenges by covering the dynamics of organizational change along with the "nuts and bolts" of developing a worship team that can effectively design and lead a contemporary worship service. It is written from the authors' experience of building worship teams in several church settings, and from the seminars they conduct on worship renewal. As the authors state in the introductory section,

There is more to contemporary worship than just plugging in a synthesizer and changing the liturgy.... The leader and team that take time to learn the congregation's unduplicated culture, values, style, and environment will mine a rich ore of information that will provide a solid foundation in all ministry.

Come Celebrate! is packaged as a leadership resource manual in a three-ring binder with 167 pages of printed material and a videotape. The material is divided into seven sections that correspond with the phases of building a worship-planning task force, recruiting a worship team, and designing and launching a contemporary worship service. The leadership and team-development sections, which comprise 80 percent of the material, are the most valuable segments because they address the most essential and potentially controversial issues that might otherwise be tragically overlooked when a church attempts to launch a contemporary worship service.

The leadership section covers topics such as the vital role of prayer, understanding the mission and vision of a church, formulating a new vision for worship, anticipating and overcoming resistance to change, the stages of group process, and the essential roles of tradition and ritual.

The team development section provides detailed agendas for a series of workshops (or a weekend retreat) designed to equip and mobilize a worship planning team. These include clarifying the goals of the team, conducting field observations of worship services at other churches, assessing Christ-centered worship, defining contemporary worship, creating a worship team mission statement, analyzing worship styles, and nurturing change in the overall worship "culture." This section also contains descriptions of worship team roles, definitions of terms used to describe worship styles, and pages designed to be duplicated for training purposes.

The remaining sections of Come Celebrate! cover the action steps required to recruit a worship team, design and "pilot test" a contemporary worship service, launch a service, and manage the ensuing growth and development of a worship team.

While the printed materials in Come Celebrate! are well written and produced, the videotape is disappointing in both format and content. The opening vignettes show a worship team leading worship for a surprisingly small and unresponsive group of worshipers. The balance of the video consists of a series of still-camera, head-shot monologues by the authors, who introduce each of the team development sections. These videotaped "sermonettes" add little to the printed materials and should not be used to judge the overall quality of Come Celebrate! as a resource for contemporary worship leaders. I wish the authors had used the video segments for live demonstrations of different worship styles, effective music transitions, and perhaps even a worship service planning session.

All in all, however, Come Celebrate! is an excellent resource for current or prospective worship leaders who are seeking to launch a contemporary worship service. It offers a comprehensive and systematic program for promoting corporate worship renewal that can be implemented by any pastor or layperson with basic team-building skills. The process it recommends for designing the actual format of a contemporary worship service can be readily adapted to any denominational or theological context.

Such a comprehensive and methodical approach to cultivating organizational change might strike some users as overly systematic and cautious. As with any comprehensive program, Come Celebrate! will depend upon the diligence, insight, and creativity of a worship team willing to follow the prescribed process while adapting each component to the specific needs of a congregation and a church's unique vision for worship.

Robert R. Castle is worship leader of Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, Maryland, and author of So You've Been Asked to Develop a Worship Team.