I have ministered to teens and young adults for over 20 years. During those years I have learned the high value they place on experiences. They crave new experiences. They remember both positive and negative experiences far longer than most of us realize. Most people who work with that age group understand that "the experience" is all part of the process.
But the longer I serve this group, the more I realize that sometimes they need an experience in order to process their thinking. Read that sentence again. Sometimes young people need to EXPERIENCE something IN ORDER to be able to THINK it through clearly. This is different than previous generations, which often thought about something first, and then made a choice to be involved in some activity or event. In simplistic terms, today's young people often ACT before they THINK but the ACTION leads to deeper THINKING.
Though acting before thinking can often lead to trouble, those who serve emerging generations in the name of Christ, can actually use this to our advantage. If we create spiritual experiences for young people to take part in, then it will allow them to think more clearly about spiritual issues. For example, a young man in our community passed away earlier this week. The exact cause of death is still unknown, but apparently it was drug related. Loosing a friend in such circumstances is difficult for young people to process. Therefore, last night at youth group we talked about the issue and then allowed those that wanted to, to light a candle on the altar in his memory. Though not all the young people present have thought through what it means to be "Christian," they did all have the opportunity to engage in this "Christian" experience. A number of them said it helped them think about issues of faith in ways that they had not previously done.
Older generations may wonder how taking part in a religious experience can help a person who does not fully understand it. But for young people, taking part in such experiences is often the route their mind takes in order to fully process the ideas surround the experience. It is a different way of thinking, but one that those who serve emerging generations in the church should consider as they plan ways to introduce those generations to faith in Christ.