It isn’t unheard of for church leaders, particularly pastors and student pastors, to start feeling a bit of anxiety when thinking of the task of reaching younger generations with the gospel. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
On this episode of the Evangelism with Johnny Hunt podcast, NAMB’s National Next Gen Evangelism Director, Shane Pruitt, returns to give pastors assurance that students – particularly Gen Z’ers – aren’t as antagonistic to the gospel as some may think. He also gives insight on what Gen Z’ers want from their churches, as well as an almost-surefire way to see more students come to Christ.
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 and your church to share the gospel. Now, here are your hosts.
Johnny Hunt: Hey, I’m Johnny Hunt. And on our last episode we introduced to you Shane Pruitt, the National Next Gen Evangelism Director here at the North American Mission Board. Shane has the ability to reach students with the gospel better than anyone else we know, and that’s exactly why we’ve asked him to join our team. And we’ve asked him to join us again today, on this podcast, to talk about practical ways to begin reaching the next generation in our churches and in our community. So, Shane, thanks for being back on the podcast with us.
Shane Pruitt: It’s an honor, Pastor Johnny. Thank you.
Johnny Hunt: Hey, Shane, with our current generation of students, how would you say we’re to gauge their receptiveness to the gospel, and what factors lead you to that conclusion?
Shane Pruitt: Yeah, that’s great. You know, here’s the deal is that in what I’ve seen across the nation being in front of students is that they’re highly receptive to the pure gospel. And I want to be very careful on how I say this, highly receptive to the pure gospel, but have little to no interest in a gospel that’s diluted with lesser things.
What I mean by that, if we portray except Jesus and this agenda, then they see through that right quickly, feel like the scheme is on. But, when it comes to the pure gospel, they’re very open to that. And the reason I say that is because young people, this Gen Z, young Millennials have been exposed to brokenness at such an earlier age. The things that we dealt with as adults or maybe have yet to deal with, they’re dealing with now in junior high.
I think, I have a daughter who’s an eighth grader, and last year in seventh grade we had to have two different discussions with her. One was on suicide because a classmate tragically committed suicide, and then there’s also a boy identifying as a girl in her class. So, we’ve had to have gender and transgender talks with our seventh grader, and suicide talks with our seventh grader last year.
So all that to say, they’re exposed to brokenness at such an early age. The internet has exposed them to that, and so many of them realize they’re broken. They realize culture is broken. They’ve seen things right in front of their face, and so they realize there’s a problem. They just don’t know what the solution is.
We know what the solution is, and it’s the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, I believe they are receptive to a pure gospel because they’re looking for a solution to the brokenness that they’re heavily exposed to on a daily basis.
Johnny Hunt: Boy, that really encourages when we think about how Jimmy Scroggins has helped us in evangelism with the three circles, because the key word is brokenness. Hey, Shane, say today’s students. Do you feel they’re interested in church, and what do they want from us when they come to our churches?
Shane Pruitt: Yeah, yeah, great question. You know, I think taking that question for literally what it is, are they interested in church? I would say, not at first, because they’re really not exposed to the church or aware of what the church is. I think often their view of the church is what they’ve seen maybe in media or they’ve heard others talk about. Because if you remember, just statistics alone tell us it’s the least religious generation that we’ve ever seen.
However, when they hear the gospel, know the gospel, then they’re all in because they’ve been exposed to brokenness. So, when they know the solution, hear the solution, experience the solution, they’re all in. But, initially, are they going to wake up one day and go, I think I should go to church today. Probably not. So that’s why the church is going to have to be a lot more of a go-and-tell church, than just a come-and-see. The church has to go to where they’re at, share the gospel.
The intentionality of who’s your one is so key right now, because initially they’re not just going to be necessarily interested in church, but they will be interested in the gospel. So we have to go to them, go to where they’re at, and not just sit back and expect them to come inside the walls of a building.
Johnny Hunt: You’re out there with so many of them, so here’s a couple of practical questions I think is going to help a lot of people that are listening. Do you feel those youth know their need for the gospel? Do they have a concept of sin?
Shane Pruitt: Yeah, I definitely do, because if you think about it, this generation, they’re largely on social media. And so, this has been called the most connected yet disconnected generation. Yet, they yearn for community. They yearn for connectivity because they’re created by a relational God. So it has made us relational. And then once again, they’ve been so exposed to brokenness that they want to know what the solution is. And so I think that is why transparency and authenticity is so important.
So, this is what I would really practically encourage pastors, student pastors, young adult pastors, communicators, is to be honest and transparent in you’re teaching. I remember in many generations passed, my dad’s generation, granddad’s generation, often you were told, never use yourself as a personal illustration. Well, if you practice that, that’s not going to connect with the next generation. I think personal illustrations are key, because if you always preach and present and teach in a way like you have it all together, and you have no problems, no struggles, then two things happen:
One, they look at that and go, ah, that’s not real. Or secondly, they look at it and go, I can never attain that. So what’s the point? So, I think it’s important to be honest to say, hey, here’s my struggles. Hey, here’s where I messed up. Or, hey, do you know what? My wife and I, we got in an argument on the way here. And you’re being honest, but you say, but here’s where my hope is, here’s where my victory is. And then you got to tie it to the gospel.
Because I think that’s also where our generation is, is they hear transparency about struggles and problems and daily battles, but there’s no pointing at all to victory. And say, hey, our hope is in Christ, our victory is in Jesus, and so we desperately need him every day. We need the gospel every day.
Kevin Ezell: Exactly. And Shane, you had a great idea. Rather than asking adults to tell other adults how to reach students, you actually sit down with students and ask a very important question. What do adults need to know about your generation, Gen Z, and what is it that you discovered?
Shane Pruitt: Yeah, this was such a fun project. So like you said, often when we’re talking about reaching the next generation, and to be honest, we have Boomers or Xers telling Millennials how to reach the next generation, or Xers telling other Xers. And so, what I did as I was traveling, I took a season where every time I was in front of students, I would grab some young adult leaders, some of their students, and basically poll and said, hey, I want to be the student here. You be the teachers. And so, you tell us how to reach your generation.
And, of course, you got hundreds of answers. But there was seven that were common in all of those conversations. And so, I want to just share real quickly what each of those are. And, this is what we found: Gen Z wants to be seen as people, not projects. Gen Z want more out of church than potluck dinners. Gen Z are not ages, meaning, hey, they’re open to being mentored and discipled and taught by older generations.
In fact, one of the most beautiful pictures I’ve ever seen of this was two weeks ago, I was sitting in a Starbucks catching up on some emails, and I look over and there’s a guy in his late sixties to early seventies sitting at a table with two college students and all three of them have their Bibles open. What a beautiful picture of that.
Another thing we saw is Gen Z largely valued the why over the what. Gen Z don’t want to be seen as the future of the church, which we realized vividly. We understand what we mean practically future of the church, but according to the New Testament, if you’ve been bought with the blood of Jesus, the Holy Spirit of God is inside of you. You’re the church now. You have a mission now. You have a calling now. You have a great commandment over your life now.
Gen Z wants authenticity and transparency. We just talked a little bit about that. And then, once again, what we’ve talked about so many times through this conversation is Gen Z knows brokenness at an earlier age.
And so, actually Pastor Johnny, by the time of possibly airing this podcast, that article will actually be on namb.net, and so it’ll be available for people to see and read.
Johnny Hunt: Wow. That’s good. You know, again, we’re trying to be as practical as we possibly can. Not only are pastors and a lot of lay people are already following his podcast, but we’re going to pick up more and more student pastors, especially with your voice being here.
Where can a pastor or student pastor begin when it comes to practically connecting with the next generation in their church and community? Let’s help them to know what they can do to reach this next generation.
Shane Pruitt: Yeah, yeah, great question. Practically and the most practical is we have to go to where they are and not expect them to come to us. So, find opportunities that are already in your community to volunteer, whether it’s coaching. Find out what the public schools need, tutoring, afterschool programs. The way to share the gospel and witness and live missionally in front of students in the next generation is you’ve got to be with them.
And then, I would also say this: The most evangelistic way to reach students is to reach their parents. And I know so many of us have seen those statistics before and they’re so true. You know, often there was that old cliche if you reach the kids, you’ve reached the whole family.
But now statistics show that’s not completely true to where if you reach the student of the family first, the chance of getting the rest of the family is about 3%.
If you reach the mom of the family first, it rises to about 17%. But if there’s a dad in the home, or a male figure in the home, if you reach him with the gospel first, then it goes up to 93%. So if you think about that, if we reached the dads, the fathers with the gospel, then the chance of reaching their students in the home goes up to 93%. I would take those odds all day, you know?
And so really, I’d say the greatest evangelism strategy for reaching the next generation is to reach their parents and specifically their fathers.
Johnny Hunt: Well, it sounds like you just invited yourself to speak at my annual men’s conference. All right, we got to reach those men, going to get those students up. Shane, listen, thanks buddy for joining us today. We cannot wait to just dive in deep in what God has called us to do. We’re looking forward to all that God has in store as you lead us to reach the next generation.
Kevin Ezell: Exactly. And Shane, man, we are so thankful that you’re here. People have asked now that Shane’s coming to Nam, I don’t want them to think, you’re not actually moving to NAMB. You’re staying in Dallas. It’s important that you’re located next to a really good airport, and you happen to be.
Shane Pruitt: Yeah, I am.
Kevin Ezell: We’re thankful that you’re staying there because we did a survey. We have nobody that’s a student that’s on staff at NAMB. So, we really don’t need you in the office. We need you out there amongst them. So, hey man, we’re so grateful for you, brother. We really are.
Shane Pruitt: Hey, I am so excited. And it is such a surreal opportunity for me to be able to serve with y’all, with NAMB, and to just be able to advance the gospel together with you.
Kevin Ezell: Well, Pastor, thanks for listening to this episode of evangelism with Johnny Hunt, and today Shane Pruitt. Visit, whosyourone.com for resources to help you engage your church in evangelism. And as always, if you have any evangelism questions, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for all that you do, and we’re so grateful for your partnership.