When it comes to the local church in North America today, something is not working.

The big question driving this book is the question of effectiveness. For a moment, resist the urge to defend yourself or your church. Don’t defend your experience in ministry, your seminary degrees, or your genuine heart for seeing people come to know Christ. Don’t defend any of the activities taking place at your church. And don’t defend the size of your congregation, the amount of giving, your service to the poor, or the number of new converts. Simply ask yourself, Is the church producing results? Is it doing its job in the best way possible? And please resist the urge to quickly answer yes.1

It’s true that throughout North America today, though numbers are declining, there are still many people coming to church, and some are busy with ministry-related activities. There are ministries to the poor. Buildings are being built. Programs are running at full tilt. Money is being given.

But attendance, busyness, construction, finances, and programs are not real indications of success. The core question of effectiveness—the question that ultimately matters—is whether the people who are getting saved are being conformed to the likeness of Christ. Are we making mature disciples of Jesus who are not only able to withstand the culture but are also making disciples of Jesus themselves?

Let’s look at some research.

Consider how recent statistics show that when it comes to morality and lifestyle issues, there is little difference between the behavior (and one can assume condition of the heart) of Christians and non-Christians.

Divorce rates are about the same.

The percentages of men who regularly view pornography are roughly the same—and it’s a lot of men.

Christians are considered to be more than two times as likely to have racist attitudes as non-Christians.

Domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and most other problems are just as prevalent among Christians as among non-Christians.

Consider too statistics about evangelicals. About one in four people living together outside marriage call themselves evangelicals.

Only about 6 percent of evangelicals regularly tithe.

Only about half the people who say they regularly attend church actually do. And a significant number of younger adults (millennials) believe that evangelical churches are not even Christlike or Christian. Sixty to 80 percent of young people will leave the church in their twenties.3

Fewer than one out of five who claim to be born-again Christians have a worldview of even a few fundamental biblical beliefs. Plenty of people call themselves Christians, but very few people can actually tell you what it means—from the Bible’s perspective—to be a Christian. They might call themselves Christians, but they also believe that the Bible is full of errors or that God is not one God manifest in three persons or that Jesus Christ did not lead a sinless life (or that he isn’t God) or that simply being good will get you into heaven.

When you ask most evangelicals what their job as a believer is, they may tell you that they are to share Christ, but how many actually do? At worst, they follow the rule that you don’t talk about politics and religion, and they will die without ever seeing anyone come to faith. At best, they may invite people to church, but they think making disciples is not their job; it’s the pastor’s job.

We could go on and on. One can’t help but conclude that something is wrong. Where’s the lasting life change? Where are the transformed lives? Why are people in our churches just like the world? Why are we not developing people who are Christlike?

Putman, Jim, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E. Coleman. 2013. DiscipleShift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.