Evangelism with Johnny Hunt

#28 – Reaching Gen Z with the Gospel: Part 1


It’s an exciting time at the North American Mission Board as NAMB welcomes Shane Pruitt out of Dallas, Texas as its new National Next Gen Evangelism Director.

In this episode, the first of a two-part discussion, Shane chats with Kevin and Johnny about his passion for reaching Gen Z students with the gospel and how his coming to Christ as a 21-year old influenced that passion.

Visit https://www.namb.net/evangelism/ for more resources that help mobilize your church into evangelism.


Announcer: You’re listening to Evangelism with Johnny Hunt, a podcast from the North American Mission Board that equips you into your church to share the gospel. Now here are your hosts.

Kevin Ezell: Pastor, thanks for joining us. I’m Kevin Ezell here with Johnny Hunt. And brother Johnny, one thing that you’re passionate about is reaching students with the gospel. With research showing that only 30% of Gen Z believes that religion is important to their life, we realize that the need to reach students with the gospel is great.

Johnny Hunt: It’s really amazing. I do have a passion for students. As a matter of fact, if God would’ve allowed me to fill in the blank when it came to my calling, I really believe I would have been a student pastor. So one thing God’s allowed me to do, is in my 33 years at Woodstock, I would say at least 28 of those years I did student camp. There were times I literally led it, before I had the staff that I have today.

And now I still speak on the student conferences across the country, even at this age, which is why I’m excited that we’ve added Shane Pruitt, who’s joining us today on the podcast to our Evangelism team here at North American Mission Board as the National Next Gen Evangelism Director. So Shane, welcome to the team.

Shane Pruitt: Hey, it’s such an honor and privilege to be a part of the team. And you’re right pastor Johnny. I’ve just admired your ministries for so many years, and first of all, putting the gospel first, and then deeply caring about the next generation. So it is an honor and privilege to serve with you and Kevin.

Kevin Ezell: Well Shane, as brother Johnny said, we are thrilled that you’re at NAMB. And we want people to get to know you. And so we’d love for you to tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.

Shane Pruitt: Absolutely, yeah. I grew up in Texas, became a Christian at 21. I didn’t grow up in church, but got saved at 21, and then called to ministry immediately after that, started Bible college. And when I started Bible college, I’d only been a Christian for about 10 months. And then after that became a student pastor, a church planter, a lead pastor and then served with the state convention here in Texas for the last four years. And then joining this great team at NAMB, an author, itinerate speaker. But the most embarrassing probably a fact about me is I’m a huge Miami Dolphins fan, which is really hard to admit this year.

Kevin Ezell: Well, it’s a select group, you know?

Shane Pruitt: It is. It teaches you patience along suffering for sure.

Kevin Ezell: Yeah, well congratulations on your win on Sunday. I know you finally pulled off one, one win.

Shane Pruitt: We got one. We got one.

Kevin Ezell: Who is your one, Baby?

Johnny Hunt: That’s a good way to start with us, yeah.

Shane Pruitt: Yeah, that’s right. And then the best thing about me, is besides my Jesus, is my family. I have a wonderful wife named Casey. We just celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. And then we have five kids that are 13 and under. So that is the prayer request. And Kevin, I know you know about having a big family. So we’ve got five kids.

Johnny Hunt: Hey, talking about the five kids, two biological, three adopted. So how would you say Shane, your life and faith have been impacted by the decision you and Casey made to adopt?

Shane Pruitt: Yeah, it’s such a great question. I tell people there’s been three major events in my life after salvation that have really shown me a new aspect of the gospel. The first one was getting married. Becoming a husband shows you a new aspect of the gospel. Becoming a father, and then becoming an adoptive father.

And I’ll never forget, with each of our three adopted kiddos, standing before the judge each time, finalizing that adoption. And hearing the judge say, “By my expert opinion, this is a great fit as a family,” give a new legal name, and it’s just such a picture of the gospel.

And then our six year old son Titus is adopted from Uganda. He has special needs, cerebral palsy and epilepsy. And it’s amazing what the Lord has taught us through him. Every day my wife and I, we pray for his physical healing. We believe the Lord can do that. But over the last six years that he’s been with us, as we pray for his physical healing, the Lord has used Titus to heal us. And I believe without a doubt, used him to make me a better follower of Jesus, husband, father, friend, leader, follower. And my wife could say the same thing about how the Lord has used each of our kids in our life but, and our special needs son.

Kevin Ezell: That’s incredible. Well you’ve spoken to teenagers all over America, but now you have one. And so how does that help you, or does it, help you in speaking to students?

Shane Pruitt: Yes, now that I have a teenager in the home, an eighth grader. First question my wife and I ask is, because we were student pastors, is how did parents ever trust us with their kids?

Kevin Ezell: And what were they thinking?

Shane Pruitt: What were they thinking? Yeah. But yeah, what’s great is, my wife and I, when we got married we said, “Hey, when we have kids, and our kids get older, we always want to have that house that all of our kids’ friends want to hang out. And so at least with our 13-year old, all of her friends want to hang out at our house.

So we constantly have a house full of eighth grade girls. And what’s great about that is they’re like a constant in-home polling group. I’ll literally will say, “Hey, who’s the artist that people are listening to? What’s the TV shows that people are watching? Who’s the actor or actress that everybody’s into? What are people saying?”

I just asked them this last weekend they were over, “Hey, what are people saying about Kanye’s new album?” And so it’s a constant polling group. And I’ll say, “Hey, what about this illustration? Do you think this would land? Hey, will students think this joke is corny?” And so I love it. It’s great having almost the constant polling group in the house.

Johnny Ezell: Hey, one thing I’m excited about, among many, about you coming to NAMB, is right now I may be one of the number one social media people. I’m out there every day, but I’m probably doing one tweet for your every 10. So you’re going to go way beyond me.

But watching what God has done even in recent days, and I’ve followed you for some time, and then you did the student camp for First Woodstock last year. But I noticed the last two Sundays you’ve had right at 50 people saved in your services two weeks in a row. So 50, right at 100 people. You’ve got a special passion for reaching students with the gospel. Share with us some insight into your heart behind reaching the next generation.

Shane Pruitt: Yeah, the next generation coming up, and most people call it Gen Z. Somebody in culture with a lot of initials behind their names, because they have a lot of degrees, decided to call this generation Gen Z.

But here are some things that we know across the board, and just evangelical life. If you wrap your mind around it, when you think 85% of Christians became Christians before the age of 14. Ninety-five percent before the age of 30. So we realize God is sovereign, but if you think of that in practical terms, a generation not reached with the gospel by the age of 30, and really more specifically in their teenage years, is literally a lost generation spiritually.

And then a different dynamic about Gen Z, that was Kevin already mentioned earlier, is that 30% of Gen Z says religion is important to them. So if that’s true, then they’re the least religious generation in US history. However, on the flip side of that, 85% of them says living a self-fulfilled life is very important. So I think as the church, that’s the threshold to cross, that they want to live a fulfilled life. They just think it becomes from themselves, and really we know that living a fulfilled life comes from someone outside of self, Jesus Christ. And that’s what the gospel gives.

And so I think as the church, what we need to do is, we need to preach the gospel every time we gather, and give people a chance to respond. Two weeks ago, a friend of mine and I, we were having lunch in Dallas. And we’re right here in Dallas, Texas. And our waiter was 18 years old. We got in a gospel conversation with him. And at 18 years old living in Dallas, Texas, he had never been in the church, heard little about God. And I literally asked him this, he had never physically held a copy of God’s Word in his hand. So it truly is an unreached generation, but the excitement of that is this very fertile soil with the gospel.

Kevin Ezell: Shane, you’re not only going to be working with students as next gen evangelism director, but also millennials. What unique challenges do you feel that churches face in reaching millennials, and where do we begin when it comes to overcoming those challenges?

Shane Pruitt: Yeah, that’s a great question. When you think of millennials, I think a lot of times we think millennials are the young adults, often the caricature is the young adult sitting in a Starbucks all day. But millennials, the oldest millennials were born in 1980. So that means you got the vast majority of millennials are now in their 30s, married, with kids and mortgages.

And so here’s what unique about them, is that millennials definitely want to have a healthy marriage, a strong family. Because if you think about it, millennials are the results of Gen Xers and boomers, where we saw divorce rates skyrocket. And so, on a large scale, we’re talking in generic general terms obviously, is they want a healthy marriage, a healthy family, but on a large scale they really don’t know how to do that, because they didn’t see that modeled for them. Because they were the product of broken families.

And also education was made such an important deal to millennials, that so many of them now in their 30s have massive amounts of debt because of student loans. So once again, I think on the practical terms of churches, showing them how to have a healthy marriage, how to manage money well. And of course we know the gospel is always right. The gospel is the key. Everything is in light of the gospel. And then really marriage, and raising kids and money management are disciple issues.

So I think the key to reaching millennials is the gospel being proclaimed, and then intentional life-on-life discipleship. It’s going back 2000 years ago. It worked 2000 years ago, and it still works today. I think sometimes we overcomplicate it, but what we need is the gospel proclaimed and discipleship to take place.

Johnny Hunt: Boy, to all of you that are listening to us, this is one of the many reasons we’re excited that Shane is coming to serve with us here at North American Mission Board. And Shane, man thanks for joining us today on the podcast. I believe a lot of people are going to be encouraged. And this is just the beginning of something we believe God has begun, and he’s allowed us to join.

Shane Pruitt: What a true honor and privilege. Thank you.

Kevin Ezell: Thanks so much Shane. And Hey, just so you know, the sweater vest is in the mail. All right? Hey.

Shane Pruitt: I am waiting.

Kevin Ezell: Yeah man.

Shane Pruitt: I have been looking every day for it.

Kevin Ezell: And we want to be relevant. And I know that’s what speaks to millennials and students. So you can get the only sweater vest exemption NAMB has, I promise so.

So, Pastor, join us for the next episode of Evangelism with Johnny Hunt, as we continue our conversation with Shane to discuss practical ways that you can reach the next generation in your church and community. If you have any questions about Evangelism, or reaching the next generation, email us at Evangelism@namb.net, and we will answer them on a later podcast.

Thank you so much for listening and for your partnership.