Evangelist Billy Graham has warned American Christians against taking a casual approach to church attendance, as it signifies a far deeper issue.
Responding to a question posted to the Kansas City Star, the 97-year-old pastor first noted that people drop out of church for a number of reasons. Some of those reasons are understandable and even necessary, if, for example, particular church isn't preaching the Gospel, or has no program for their children.
In these cases, Graham encourages Christians to ask God to guide them to another church instead of abandoning the body of Christ altogether.
However, far too often, people drop out of church simply because they want to do something else. People may say they've found church boring, or people haven't seemed friendly, or it's become a meaningless routine, while in reality, they simply don't want to attend.
Graham writes: "It's not a new problem; believers in New Testament times were urged to strengthen each other spiritually, 'not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing' (Hebrews 10:25)."
A disdain for church attendance boils down to a deeper issue, Graham writes: "What place does Jesus Christ have in our lives? Is He only one of many interests we have, or is he the center and foundation of all we do?"
The evangelist warns that "A casual approach to Christ always leads to a casual approach to church."
He adds, "But once you realize who Jesus is and what he has done for you through his death and resurrection, you'll never treat him casually again."
A Pew Research Center survey from November found that the percentage of Americans who regularly go to church or other religious services all have declined modestly in recent years.
Additionally, the Hartford Institute of Religion Research, found that less than 20 percent of Americans attend church on a weekly basis.
In a 2014 Facebook post, Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren echoed Graham's concern that far too many Christians don't attend church: "We've been deeply hurt by members of the church, we've been disappointed, we can be discouraged. But the Church is the bride of Christ. It's the hope of the world, the vessel through which God works out his plan. We have to learn to love the church," he wrote.
However, he encouraged believers to learn to love the church as a reflection of our love for Christ.
"For some of us that means there's people we need to forgive, for others it means we need to get involved in service, and for others it means we need to change how we talk of the church. Jesus loves his church. If for no other reason than that - we must love the church also."