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Sure, the trend has been happening for years (gone are the days when people attended 50 out of 52 Sundays), but the issue is reaching a tipping point in the church today.

I first wrote about this two years ago in a post called 7 Ways to Respond as People Attend Church Less Often.

In the last 24 months, the conversation has come up far more often and, to many leaders, feels much more urgent.

This post is the first part of a 5 part series on why people are attending church less often: Part 2: CNLP Episode 23: Why People Are Attending Church Less Often—An Interview with Will Mancini.

Part 3: 5 Ways to Embrace Infrequent Church Attenders Part 4: 10 Predictions About the Future Church And Shifting Attendance Patterns Part 5: CNLP Episode 24: Churchless: Why and How America is Learning to Live Without The Church—An Interview with David Kinnaman So why all this attention?

This trend isn’t going away…in fact (as the podcasts will show) it’s accelerating, It impacts almost every church regardless of size, denomination or even location. If your church is at all engaging the middle class, the upper middle class, or a suburban demographic, an interesting trend is developing.

It probably marks a seismic shift in how the church will do ministry in the future. So…why are even committed attenders attending less often? The middle class is shrinking, but as this New York Times report shows, it’s shrinking (in part) because more of the middle class is becoming class. And, arguably, that affluence may be one of the factors moving them further away from a committed engagement to the mission of the local church.

Both US and Canadian personal disposable incomes are at all time highs. It’s perhaps fuelling some of the reasons outlined below. And a growing number of kids are playing on teams that require travel. And affluent parents are choosing sports over church. Despite a wobbly economy, travel is on the rise, both for business and pleasure.

There are simply more affluent people than there were decades ago, which may in part explain why so many “average’ people indulge their obsessions with granite counter tops, designer homes and decent cars, even without being mega-wealthy. More and more families of various ages travel for leisure, even if it’s just out of town to go camping or to a friend’s place for the weekend or a weekend at the lake.Naturally, this leaves a huge theological void about ministry to and with the poor, but it helps explain what’s actually happening in the suburbs and increasingly with the re-urbanization of many cities as the affluent move back downtown. I’m simply showing that this seems to be what’s happening. And when people are out of town, they tend to not be in church.Fortunately, more and more blended families and single parent families are finding a home in church.So how does this translate into attendance patterns?Church leaders need to remember that when custody is shared in a family situation, ‘perfect’ attendance for a kid or teen might be 26 Sundays a year.Similarly, while the affluent might not be in church because of have a car or because it’s not their ‘weekend’ for church.Sadly, people who want to get to church simply can’t.By the way, I lead a church that virtually requires a vehicle to get there.I love how we often see people with reliable transportation helping out those who don’t have a vehicle. Many churches have created a social media presence and many podcast their messages like we do at Connexus.Churches are also launching online campuses that bring the entire service to you on your phone, tablet or TV.There are pros and cons to online church (I outline 7 here) and there’s no doubt that churches with a strong online presence have seen it impact physical attendance.

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