Sally Morgenthaler's Worship Evangelism: Inviting Unbelievers into the Presence of God, provides a wealth of knowledge concerning the evangelistic opportunities present during the church worship service. Unlike those who perceive today's seekers as being tough minded and cynical, she says they often come to our worship centers "hungry to see evidence of God at work in our hearts" (1999:40).
Morgenthaler exposes the shortcomings of the now popular "seeker service" paradigm. While applauding its ability to draw first time visitors, seeker services tend to present a watered down worship experience, evidently due to a fear that seekers will find authentic, whole-hearted worship offensive and undesirable. Morgenthaler argues that seekers come to our churches and worship centers truly wanting to discover genuine, heartfelt worship among those who profess to be Christian.
Morgenthaler also disputes the notion, often presented by proponents of seeker services, that unbelievers cannot experience, or even appreciate, an authentic worship service. Some worship leaders go so far as to schedule their primary weekly worship service apart from seekers and promote it as a member's only event. In contrast, Morgenthaler presents a case for a dynamic, blended worship environment, where believers and seekers approach the Lord on a level plane. It is to be an event where heart-felt worship, experienced and modeled by the believers, serves as an invitation to the unsaved to taste the goodness of knowing the Lord. "Unbelievers," says Morgenthaler, "will draw lasting conclusions about the veracity and uniqueness of God based on what they see or do not see happening in our weekly church services. Do they detect something supernatural and life-changing going on" (1999:9)?
Perhaps addressed more often than anything else in her book, Morgenthaler bemoans the tendency demonstrated by some worship leaders to craft their worship experience by replicating successful programs and practices of others congregations. She laments the straight-out-of-the-box methods being employed by many leaders who seem to approach worship as something they program rather than something they lead and experience. To prevent this abuse within worship today, she recommends four essentials of authentic worship.
1. Nearness: The worshipers' acknowledgment of God's presence.
2. Knowledge: Knowing Christ and his Father's desire to draw mankind to worship.
3. Vulnerability: That which builds on nearness, but includes opening up to God.
4. Interaction: Pertaining to the overall corporate worship experience where one worships and bears witness in a blended setting ripe with expectancy. Attention to these four essentials, Morgenthaler argues, provides protection from the varied pitfalls prevalent within contemporary worship today.
She concludes her book by saying, "worship evangelism is not a methodology, not a formula or some surefire recipe ready to be marketed to death.... It may be a whole new way of thinking for most of us, but it has been around for two thousand years" (1999:279-280).
In the years since Worship Evangelism was published, one of the harshest critics of Morgenthaler's work has been Sally Morgenthaler herself. In an interview article published as early as 2001 in the Regeneration Quarterly under the title, More Than a Talk Show, she began to question her worship evangelism paradigm. She writes,
People sometimes ask me what I would have done differently with Worship Evangelism . . .
Silly me . . . here's a writer who is hip-deep in all the human muck she's revealing, and as
much in need of the transcendent, the rooted, and the transformational as the people and
communities she documents.1
In addition to questioning her objectivity, she also acknowledged other areas of weakness, stating, "I'd also like to throw out chapter seven, my `boomer formula' chapter. It was one of the hardest chapters to write, and in retrospect, that is no accident." 2
In a later article, published in Rev! Magazine, the May/June 2007 issue, her discontent with her book becomes extremely evident. Writing of the letdown that often followed her numerous speaking engagements, she writes,
Too many times, I came away with an unnamed, uneasy feeling. Something was not
quite right. The worship felt disconnected from real life. . . .Then it hit me in the face.
It was unabashed self-absorption, a worship culture that screamed, `It's all about us'
so loudly that I wondered how any visitor could stand to endure the rest of the hour. . . .
It wasn't hard to see that the biggest barrier to reaching the unchurched had little to
do with worship technique or style. It had to do with isolation and the faux-worship
that isolation inevitably creates.3
Morgenthaler apparently sees the bulk of her work as a millstone, distracting the church of God from the work of the great commission. As a result, she has shut down her evangelistic worship websites and has become fully engaged in the emergent church movement.
Sally is her own worst critic. Perhaps this book should contain a warning label, as should most church growth books. "Do not read if you are looking for market-driven approaches to filling the pews. The information contained in these pages should not to be copied in style, but appreciated for its substance." It is true that the solutions she presents may be morphed into a program and marketed as a worship panacea, but this could be true of many church growth principles. Perhaps she feels that her work has been used, by some worship leaders, in careless, self-serving ways, but surely there are numerous others that have applied her principles to craft authentic, winsome worship.
In the opinion of this writer, rather than being a millstone around Sally's neck, this book remains a milestone in the field of worship evangelism. Morgenthaler's premises are sound; her theology solid, and her vision -inspired. She's gifted and convincing as a writer and visionary worship leader, but fails miserably as a critic.
1Sally Morgenthaler, More Than a Talk Show, The Rebirth of Worship-Centered Evangelism, [...] (accessed 19 March, 2009).
3Rev! May/June, 2007, Worship As Evangelism, p. 49, [...] (accessed 19 March, 2009).