If you haven’t read the first part of this series, it might be helpful to check it out first to give you some context of where I’m going with the rest of this series. The next 4 articles will unpack some of the finer points of connecting with students through the E.P.I.C. acronym. (Experiential, Participatory, Image-rich, Connected). Let’s dive deeper into the first component, Experiential.
E – Experiential
Students today need to be invited into something. Keywords – INVITED and INTO. Not told, directed or left to themselves to figure it out. Students long to experience learning, not just hear and be lectured at. In fact, when lectured, they’re more likely (as all age groups are) to miss most of what is said. Why the church is stuck in a lecture bound format is still mind-boggling to me… well not totally mind boggling, I love to hear the sound of my own voice too (repentance in another article)! Yet despite overwhelming research to the contrary we still hammer this method home with students also, don’t we? Yet look at the mental retention rates.
I’m not condemning lecturing, but there’s so much room for improvement. As you can see, just adding in discussion and some practice opportunities skyrocket the learning. I was just at an amazing ministry coaching training and it included a ton of “practice doing” with others and “teaching others” what we had learned. It was challenging and sometimes I pouted but my learning became fun and was retained.
The more we can create environments or opportunities to experience a value or concept being taught, the more likely they will be to absorb the learning. Could you imagine coaching a sport and not implementing past lecture, reading, and a dash of dialogue? Never! Jesus was no educational noob, He was/is the Master Teacher. He lectures, reads, presents images, experiences, demonstrates, discusses with His disciples, lets them loose, and sends them to teach and disciple others (in the same way He had done to them). Let’s not take any shortcuts to not do the same for our students.
What Does This Look Like
Recently I gave a talk to a room full of students at a local high school. I started by giving them an image on a sheet of paper that exposes the blind spot each of us have in our eye, where optic nerve leaves the eye. I let them play with the sheet until they each said out loud “Whoa!”… I knew then they experienced the blind spot. They thought it was cool and it made my talk more memorable especially as they laughed at each other. Most importantly they “experienced” a blind spot. When I transitioned that into talking about blind spots spiritually they were fully engaged. Sharing about how Jesus reveals blind spots had traction. The transition was building off their communal experience as well as their interaction and laughter at this new “revelation” of blind spots. I still lectured a bit but I used stories (painting mental pictures) and connected it to their life stage issues (which I’m tuned into from spending time with them).
“OK Tim, so do something cool and tie it into my message?…Cool article bro. Is that all you’re saying?” Well, actually that would be a really good start! However, not entirely my point. What I’m advocating in this article is that you consider how you might integrate experiential learning with your students in a way that has the greatest shaping effect in your discipleship times together.
Let’s get this out of theoretic and into real life with some reflection and action-oriented questions:
- What do you want your students to experience in your times with them? (Both in one-on-one time and in group settings).
- Why is it important to you that they have this type of experience?
- What are some experiences you could plan or create to enhance students growth as a community together?
- What are some experiences you could plan or create to enhance students’ movement on mission together?
- How can you integrate experiential learning, focused on the Gospel into your regular/rhythmic times with your students?
- What are some things you may have to trim back or eliminate in order to create time for these new ideas?
- How will you ensure you take faithful action on this?
Last note; keep in mind “millennials” (Gen Y) on the older end can be around 34-36 years old, so in general, if your mental picture of a millennial is a teenager you’re mistaken. Gen Z, however, are the current high schoolers down through toddlers. Forbes Magazine stated “by 2025, millennials, also known as Gen Y, will make up the majority of the workforce in the USA” and at 53.5 million strong they are on track to become the largest living generation in the U.S., making up 75% of the labor market by 2025. So think of that in terms of who you’re sharing life within your church families, if what you’re doing isn’t “millennial friendly” it may just be that it’s not friendly, period.
Let’s follow Jesus and let our students imitate us as we imitate Him.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good, oh the joys of those who take refuge in Him.” Psalm 34:8
How does the reminder of experiential learning impact the way you approach student discipleship?
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