Those churches that sprang from American soil have avoided certain aspects of the feudal model, but unfortunately many have been co-opted by another system. Whereas Constantine poured the early Christian movement into the mold of Roman patronage, many American churches have been profoundly shaped by the mold of democratic capitalism. Ours is a free market system where “church shopping” makes complete sense to most people because the focus is on meeting the perceived needs of individuals. Over the past fifty years churches in America have continued this pattern by placing an ever-greater emphasis on attracting new members by providing staff-led programs tailored to the specific interests of various constituencies.
Apparently we need more than a better marketing plan or a new program to solve this crisis. What began as a dynamic grass-roots movement in Palestine that nearly conquered the Roman Empire gradually became a theology in Greece, an institution in Rome, a state church in Europe, and now a non-profit service provider in America. The question is: what will the next chapter of our story be?