This latter point was the culmination of a commentary last week on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The commentary seeks to explain where this American Christian consumer mentality came from, with the end of parishioners naturally being assigned to a specific parish
To be fair, this change may have been enabled by Henry Ford, but not one that he oversaw. Instead, the the growth of American consumerism in church — as in the rest of society — would likely be traced through is explosion in the postwar era.
Which Henry Caused the Reformationby Carl R. Trueman
In fact, I would argue that the single greatest enabler of the modern world’s attitude to religion is not some sixteenth-century Reformer…Henry Ford, not Henry VIII, is the guilty man. The Reformation may have familiarized the world with the concept of religious choice, but that choice became a reality for most people only with the advent of cheap and easy means of private transportation. It was the arrival of the internal combustion engine, and then the mass-produced automobile, that really changed everything. It altered our relationship to time, to geographical space, and to our communities and all that is contained therein. It was the motor car that truly freed people from the constraints of having to worship within walking distance of their home. The motor car made churches into choices, competing for customers in the marketplace of Sunday recreations. It turned us all, Protestant and Catholic alike, into consumerist Congregationalists.
Some of this is due to cars, which were in scarce supply during the Depression and World War II, but become plentiful after the war (and Ford’s 1947 death). But the postwar era and television also brought a new tools of the mass media – the great American selling machine that sells us soap, dreams of happiness, and even presidents. This trend of the 1950s and 1960s was captured by the TV show “Mad Men” and the book The Selling of the President.
Most Anglo-Catholic church planters seem to understand this dilemma. On the one hand, we have to reach prospective members — whether Anglican, Christian, fallen away or the unbaptized — and have a conversation with them about the triune God, faith and salvation. On the other hand, a church that exists only to put on programs — to attract new members — at best has put the cart before the horse and at the worst has forgotten the teaching and discipling components of the Great Commission.
Various studies and consultants have emphasized the need for the church to be real, honest and authentic, particularly with the Millennial generation. If we really mean it — consistently manifesting the vertical and horizontal fellowship of Matthew 12:29-31 — we may be able to overcome their cynicism that churches (and the Church) are just another organization trying to attract interest and revenues to line its own pockets..