Innovating the Future Through Mirror Labs
With churches facing an exodus of men in their 20s and 30s, we have launched Mirror Labs, our new R&D division, to focus on this critical question:
Can the church in America work together to solve the spiritual crisis among young men?
By Jeremy Schurke
Director of Mirror Labs
In 2008, when I graduated from the University of Central Florida, it seemed like the city I lived in was experiencing a revival. Churches in the area were seeing an explosive influx of young adults hungry for Christ and community. It seemed like everyone I knew was becoming a Christian.
When I moved away, I remember thinking, “Orlando is going to be a bedrock for the Christian faith for decades to come.”
One decade passed before I moved back in 2018. When I arrived, I immediately noticed a stark difference in the spiritual state of the city; the community of faith I’d been surrounded by had become a ghost town. Friends of mine were disinterested, dechurched, and deconstructing their once vibrant faith.
I’d ask a friend I hadn’t seen in a while what church they were attending, and they’d look at me so strangely—as if I’d just reminded them of a past life they’d forgotten.
One guy told me within the first 10 seconds of reuniting after a decade that he was an atheist but glad to see me.Friends of mine were disinterested, dechurched, and deconstructing their once vibrant faith.Click To Tweet
As I became more and more curious, one day I walked around downtown and stopped to ask several strangers about their spiritual standing. Three of them were ex-youth pastors—Three of them!—and not one of them was currently affiliated with a local church. Two of them were no longer Christians.
I found that not only were some of my peers unsure of the catalyst for this reversal in belief, but they hadn’t even bothered to think about it deeply. Why? Well, they said, because no one had asked.
Quickly I recognized the shift was not limited to my city; an exodus of young people from the church was taking place nationwide.
Pastor, researcher, and author Ryan P. Burge estimates that 27% of America is currently “dechurched,” meaning they were actively engaged at least monthly, but now haven’t been connected to any house of worship in over six months.
Today, those who are religiously unaffiliated—often called the “nones”—are the fastest growing religious category in the U.S., and people in their 20s and 30s are disproportionately represented in this group.
If the current trend continues, Pinetops Foundation predicts that 40 million youth raised in families that call themselves Christians will say they are not by 2050. Almost one-tenth of America’s entire population.
If nothing changes, then—
Local churches will continue to struggle at reaching this demographic in meaningful ways.
More and more Christian ghost towns will spring up and persist.
More and more young men will roam the streets of our cities as lost sheep.
More and more men who are currently engaged in the church will be at risk.
So what can be done?
Near the end of 2019, I connected with Brett Clemmer, the president of Man in the Mirror, through a mutual friend. Pretty quickly, we realized that my passion for helping my peers was a burden shared by the Man in the Mirror team as well.
We all recognized one undeniable reality: men’s discipleship is at a critical crossroads, and young men are suffering as a result.
Out of those discussions, I joined Man in the Mirror at the start of this year as Director of Mirror Labs, a new division committed to researching and developing resources to better engage men in their 20s and 30s.Men’s discipleship is at a critical crossroads, and young men are suffering as a result.Click To Tweet
Our goal at Mirror Labs is twofold. First, it is to serve as the Mirror —meeting young men where they are to listen and deeply reflect on their experiences and thoughts. To this end, we have held focus groups and facilitated situational gatherings to hear directly from men about the challenges they face, as well as to observe the way they connect with one another.
In the coming year, we plan to conduct further quantitative research through pioneering partnerships with academic institutions and organizations to develop regional and national surveys, pending the necessary funding.
As we learn and outline problems as a mirror, we shift to Labs. Through connecting local Christian leaders and pastors, we collectively begin to develop experimental approaches and fresh solutions to the current challenges.
A Better Future
This year, we initiated a prototype “City Lab” in Orlando, where local leaders gathered to collaborate on how to meet the deeply felt needs of younger men. We are aiming to hold these gatherings in cities all over the country, learning and experimenting with those already in the trenches.
Mirror Labs is also developing new resources and field testing them around the country, and so far, the feedback from our leaders has been encouraging.
One of those leaders, Pastor Steve, field tested a new resource called RITUAL Vol. 1, a life assessment journal to complete with someone else. He went through it weekly with a few young men from outside the church and had exciting results. As he put it:
“These men are in pivotal times in their lives with young families, many wounds, and a lot of questions. They were raised in the church but have walked away, believing it to be irrelevant to their lives. But through our conversations as we do this journal, their guards have come down.
“The truth is if we don’t keep adapting and trying new things like this, far too many people will be left behind. Young men seek a deep, Spirit-based relationship with others and God, but they see it as too high a hurdle to overcome.”
We have an amazing opportunity before us! Like these men, the young men we’re talking with are open, honest, and deeply searching for significance and meaning.Young men are open, honest, and deeply searching for significance and meaning.Click To Tweet
The question is not, “Is the harvest plentiful?” but rather “Who has the ache to do the work?”
Our hope is that others will join this research and development effort as participants and financial partners to help overcome the hurdles set before us.
And that together, we will seize this sacred opportunity to lay a better foundation for the future church and go after the millions of men who are in desperate need.
THE BIG IDEA: When it comes to discipling young men, the question is not “Is the harvest plentiful?” but rather “Who has the ache to do the work?”