Ben Bennett and Brian Barcelona talk about how to best reach Gen Z with the message of Jesus. Brian shares the hurts and struggles he experienced growing up, how he met Jesus, and how he eventually started reaching thousands of youth in public high schools across the U.S. They discuss the common struggles that young people face today, and how to help them find healing.
Brian Barcelona is author of “The Jesus Club,” and founder of One Voice Student Missions, which reaches millions of youth online and in-person.
Connect with Brian at brianbarcelona.com and on Instagram @brianbarcelona
Subscribe to Brian’s Jesus Club YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheJesusClubs/featured
Learn more about One Voice Student Missions: ovsm.com
Visit the Resolution Movement website: resolutionmovement.org
Follow us on Instagram @resolutionmovement
- [Ben] Welcome to the Resolution Podcast where we believe it's possible to overcome struggles and thrive in life. Here we discuss mental health, trauma, brokenness, healing and ultimately how we can experience a thriving life with Jesus and others. These conversations are informed by my new book "Free To Thrive" coauthored with Josh McDowell. I'm your host, Ben Bennett. Welcome to season two. - Well, hey everyone welcome back to the Resolution Podcast. Ben Bennett here and today's episode is gonna be so good. I'm joined by my friend, Brian Barcelona and we'll be talking about his story to faith in Jesus and also reaching Gen Z. Brian is a author, a speaker, founder of One Voice Student Missions. And he's really leading on the forefront of youth evangelism in high schools and online. Brian dude, thanks so much for joining me today. - Well, thanks for having me man. - Yeah, so good to see you. Hey, you're a local Texan now just down the street from me. It's so good to have you transplanted from California. How you loving it? - Dude, I love Texas man. 100%. - I knew it, yeah man, Texas. So reaching Gen Z, it's reaching young people. It's such an important issue today. The next generation and bro Brian, I just called you bro Brian maybe I'll call you brother Brian in the future. But as I've gotten to know you the past year or so I've been so encouraged by what you're doing, what God is doing through you and how y'all are just really pioneering reaching Gen Z online. Literally reaching millions of people online. It's incredible. I'm pumped for today's conversation. So as we get into it, let me start by asking this question. Will you begin by sharing what growing up was like for you and what your journey to faith in Jesus was like? - Man, what age would you like me to start at? That's gonna depend upon what story that I will share. - Well, you came to faith later in life like, teenager towards the end of teenage years. - Yeah, I came to faith when I was 16 years old. - Wow. - So, I'm 30 now so what's that, it's a long time. - Yeah, that's the math right there. - Yes. - A couple of years prior to faith in Jesus. What was life like and what led you? Besides Jesus you know, what was the transition like following Jesus? - Yeah, I mean, man to sum it up like, I just hated my life. I was so depressed, I was broken, addicted, certain things and I just. Yeah, man, I mean, there was nothing glamorous of my life. I had anger problems and just felt hopeless all the time. And I hope when you're hearing this it's not a sob story that is genuinely what I was feeling almost every day. Well, I was a musician so I had some outlet in which I would be able to get my emotions out. But for the most part man, I was just living in torment. And you know, I remember when I came to Christ all of that changed. I think it's been so wild for me sometimes to hear people talk about you know, how God didn't provide or God didn't show up. All I've known in the 12 years of salvation or no, 14 years of salvation, I'm sorry. 14 years of knowing Christ is a God that shows up. And I don't think it's 'cause I've been special or anything crazy. I've just been expecting. I think for me I lived one way for so long that I didn't, and I'm not perfect that I've made mistakes, done all sorts. But when I got saved I just didn't wanna live the same way. And so, I'm not saying I've never had a rough moments 'cause I have, but I think in those rough moments I've always seen it like, my worst day with God is better than my best day without him. - Wow, that's amazing, so good. My worst day with God is better than my best day without him. Come on man. And when you came to faith did somebody explicitly share the gospel with you? Did you stumble into a church? Was somebody coming into in high school? What was that like? - You know, I've had the gospel preached to me years and years and years. My family's religion I guess you would say historically was Christian. My great grandfather pastored five churches. And then it kind of skipped you know, my grandma and she got saved later on and then it skipped my father and mother's generation. My dad was not a believer and although they went to church was not a believer and I won't get into too much. But really skip a generation there was no God in my home. And then I went through a crazy divorce of my parents. And I think by the time I was 16 I had come to a hard conclusion that God was not real, Jesus was not real. There was, you know, maybe there might have been some out there but I highly doubted I was like, there's no way, can't be an existence of a God and everything is so jacked up. And yeah, I always felt a spiritual connection if that makes sense. I didn't know what it was and I just totally would no longer identify with Christianity. And I remember when I got invited to a church and I went to this church and got right and saved that night. My story is I looked up the ceiling and I said, God, if you're real touch me. And I felt the Holy spirit come but man, there are probably been a bunch of times I've been to random services with my grandma and it was because there was free food. Not a big glamorous church, church of 50 people, Pentecostal people running around in circles. I'm laughing at them 'cause they're speaking in weird languages called tongues. And it was just, it was a crazy experience. Man, but I just felt like if my heart was a stone then every service I went to even though I thought was crazy chipped away at the hardness of it. And so yeah, I mean, did I have a radical conversion one night? 100%. But I think that the prayers of my grandma drastically sped up the process of my salvation. My grandma was the persistent widow in the book of Luke that went before the King and the King granted her request not because she had power or authority but because she was annoying. The king just gave her what she wanted. I always joke around and I always tell my grandma you were that annoying persistent widow before the throne of God seeking him for my salvation. And the moment I gave God an inch he took a thousand miles in my life. - Wow, come on. That's amazing. Thank God for persistent grandmas and family members and those people. So good. And then you started like, after you came to faith in Christ it was pretty early on that you started going into high schools and reaching out to youth. What was that like there in Southern California? Tell us some of that story. - I actually started in Northern California. I ended in Southern California protections but I mean, I had been reaching youth. I started reaching youth, what was it? 2009. I was reaching youth and I went in really because I just heard the Lord say to go in. And so I went in and I started preaching in my old high school. And I wasn't expecting much to happen to be honest. I mean, I had no grid it's not like I went in thinking, oh, I want, this is my goal. My only goal was to show up every day. So I showed up as you know, I committed twice a week at the time I was in one high school and God started moving. And so I really think that the whole One Voice and everything, the conception of it was, I mean, it was about as flashy as a manger man. It wasn't anything that you would think something would be born in. If you would have looked at my life back then you would have thought this guy is a loser he needs to get a job. But I was just going to high schools you know, and I was just consistent every week. And I love to see, you know, young people reach that's kind of how I started. - That's awesome. And then didn't it start to like, you were going in, you were preaching, y'all started something you called the Jesus Clubs, right? How did that, tell us more about that. - The name and the branding was heavily birthed in 2019. Prior to that we had been, we just called them Bible Clubs. You know, it was nothing fancy, was nothing crazy. We called it Bible Club cause we wanted to be up front with what people were coming to we didn't want to backdoor the gospel. And so, but in essence Bible Club and Jesus Clubs we're all the same thing. We just, we had this model and this dream of what if campus clubs were place of evangelism built for the lost. And not a place where Christians would just come and hang out to get away from sin. So we really met, we geared every message towards the lose. We welcomed everybody, every religion, every ethnicity, every sexual orientation or preference whatever you'd call it, we didn't discriminate. And we just wanted somebody to just come and hear about this man. We kept the main thing, the main thing. And we seen repentance come to the hearts and lives change at the message of Jesus. I never hovered around a topic man. I think, you know, the good news of Jesus when you get into the good news is that there's another way. The good news is that there's another kingdom. And when you get introduced to the kingdom, you get introduced to the King and you realize that when you love the King you obey his commandments. And so I felt like our meetings, excuse me. Our meetings were, I guess if I think about it it was very much similar what's going on in the Middle East we were discipling kids under conversion. You know, cause every week, I mean, I wasn't trying to win the whole school in one day. I'd commit there for years I'd be in a school. And so I preach, I mean, I get countless stories of kids that have come all year long never accepting God and in the last meeting of the school year they come to the faith. And so I would just show up every week and I would give these messages of the kingdom of God various topics. You know, I remember one of my favorite was I remember when I introduced sin to the school in East LA I was preaching at. And I was like, how do I communicate to kids that they are sinners and they are in need of a savior. And so it was around Halloween time. So I went to a Halloween store and I bought a straight jacket. And I just had this idea so during the gymnasiums is packed, 400 kids in a gym and I put this straight jacket on and I'm running around the gym like a madman. And I finally come to and they're holding mic for me cause I'm strapped. And I said, how many all things I look insane and everyone raised their hand. So how many y'all think I'm crazy? So how many y'all if you see me walking down the street you would cross the street 'cause you don't want to encounter me. I said, well, this is how all of you look every day of your lives when you are bound to a sin that you cannot be free from. And so I just, you know, I think my goal was never to convert anyone. My goal was to share the good news and believe that God would bring about the conversion. - So good, I love that. That's just a wild image and illustration you did of the straight jacket and so true of-- - I've done so many, that was my that was my go-to it was always illustrations. Like I'm a visual learner. So I would always try to bring, I remember one time it was around Christmas time and I wanted to talk about how Christmas people say it's about the trees, the gifts and the light. You know, the lights and I said Christmas is about the tree, the gift and the light. And I remember I set up this Christmas tree in the middle of the gym and I wrapped the cross, two pieces of the cross. And I talk about how the greatest gift wasn't wrapped in paper it was wrapped in flesh, and that gift didn't sit under a tree and hung on a tree. And that gift was the light to the world. And so when you break stuff down for young people to understand like. You know, I think even now my communication is very simple because my my background was communicating to young people and it still is. Even now I have a harder job. I had at least 15 minutes before now I have 60 seconds on social media on TikTok and on these various platforms. And when you have 60 seconds to preach a message to pierce the heart, you cut out a lot of stuff that's unnecessary. - Yeah and you're crushing it there on TikTok. That's awesome. I'm just waiting to see the straight jacket TikTok that you do soon. - Maybe man. - That'll be awesome. Another question I wanted to ask. So in my new book, check it out. I'll send you a copy here soon. We talk about how so many people today, young people are dealing with anxiety, loneliness, depression, addiction. And I know that you all with One Voice are addressing that too. You're crushing it on TikTok. You're talking about how Jesus can set people free, he can heal them, he can save them, he can change everything. How have you all seen God work? Are there any stories of what God has done the past year through reaching people in pressing into these real needs that kids have? - I'll give you my story man. I think that, you know, I think there's a big debate around. You have like two camps. You have camps that are heavily focused on counseling and mental health and you have another camp that's heavily on the spirituality of the rebuking demons. And I think there's truth of both camps. I think that there is for me man, you know, when I was younger I was in anger management. And it was because of the trauma that I went through when I was a kid. I mean, I'd seen abuse. So I had seen a lot of things happened in my life. And even as a Christian there were moments of my Christianity that were rough for me. And I never felt fully safe to share moments I would go through because it's like as a believer it is almost like there are people that do I believe they get instantaneously set free. You see that in the scripture, you see people that had issues of sicknesses and they were instantly healed. And there's other people that says that as they wait, they were healed. And so I thought when I look at the words saved in the Greek there's three meanings to it. It's rescued, delivered and healed. I think that we heavily preach rescued. Jesus saved you from your sin that's 100% but I believe there's two components that we sometimes don't emphasize. He also wants to rescue but he wants to heal you and he wants to deliver you. I don't believe that we are called as believers to walk in the same struggles our entire life until one day we just creep into the gates of heaven, you know, barring it. I think that there is freedom. And I think that, you know, I think that there are people that counseling is incredible. You look at the name that Jesus gave would have named The Holy Spirit is he was a counselor. But he's a counselor of your soul. The Holy spirit can go into places that no human person can do. I mean, obviously, with the Holy spirit together it's powerful. We got fathers and mothers and those sorts of things I've had in my life. But I remember the biggest shift that I had was in 2020 I'd come to realize that Jesus had been my savior in a lot of areas of my life, but he needed to become Lord in all the areas of my life as well. And I remember like, I just remember there was this moment I had and I was like man, and I don't know if any other believer has ever gone through this. But when you struggle whether it's anxiety, anger, frustration, I don't know, depression. There's some times as a believer that we'll say, well, man, if I'm a Christian who is saved and Jesus is my savior and Lord and I feel this then what hope do I have? Because I've done everything. I go to church, I read my Bible, I pray, yet I'm still in this place. And I remember there was this moment I had where I realized and I said man Jesus you are my savior 100% but will you become Lord now in the areas of these lives? And all that simply meant was not that there was gonna be no momentary struggle. It was that in that moment I was going to allow God to lead me in and through that struggle. Instead of feeling like everything was dependent on me. You know, so I don't know, you're driving and for me someone cuts me off on my lane so people cutting off people all the time on the freeway. Someone cuts me off and I'm just angry oh my God, what is this person doing. In those moments realizing that God doesn't desert me until I'm better. It's saying, Jesus will you become Lord in the same anger I have right now? It's very difficult. Or in moments where you know, you're getting hit in your mind. I think it's important for people to understand there's a difference between thoughts that come this way and thoughts that come this way. And a lot of times the things that we battle are coming this way. And the enemy is so crafty in making you believe that those thoughts are coming from within you. Therefore you must be wicked, therefore you must be what you're thinking and what your emotions are and what you feel. And so for me man, I mean, there's a freedom in being able to meet God in my weakness. And I actually think that what we think is strength man becomes the greatest hindrance in God moving in our lives. Because the Bible doesn't say his power is perfected in our strength, it says his power is perfected in our weakness. And so now man, my weakness in my life has only done one thing it's pointed me to God and it's allowed me to give mercy and grace in ways that I don't think I could have given otherwise. But I don't think I'm to remain forever in this place. I've seen God deliver me, I've seen me become a better father over the years, a better husband over the years. You know, God willing a better leader over the years so. - Yeah, so, so powerful man. I relate so much to that in your story and in my story just getting saved at a young age but struggling with mental health issues, addictions. I'm like, how do I get free from this stuff? It might just wait around at the rapture rest stop until Jesus comes back and finally I'm healed and like him. But I love that. Yeah, in the Greek there's, you know another word for salvation is healed or to make whole. Jesus came to make us whole to save us eternally but to make us whole here and now. And that's the freedom we can experience and that's what young people need to hear. - Yeah, and I do want to say that in the process of God healing you, if that does not disqualify you from the work of the ministry, I think we've done a great injustice. All way of restoration of people is sitting them down for ministry as though ministry is a bait and switch we use to get people live wholly. I mean, I think God and Jesus didn't do what half the pastors in America do. When there's a struggle you suddenly Jesus literally, the first evangelist in the gospels was a woman with multiple husbands that she had in her past. And well, how is she an evangelist? She went and brought a whole village back to Jesus. She wasn't Jesus. It wasn't like, I need to go to a six month inner healing program. And when you are better then you may go. He read her mail, he let her know how I want you to know I know all this junk in your life but that doesn't disqualify you same with the disciples. And I love it that the gospels doesn't emphasize their issues because I don't think Jesus did. You know, I don't think, man, there was a reason why the gospels emphasize the stories that it did and the stories that it didn't. There's no reason why you don't see all of the junk of the disciples because there was more important things to talk about. And I think for us and I'm not condoning sin and I'm not saying do whatever you want. No, what I am saying though is I just think we disqualify people too quick. I mean, if half the dudes in the Bible that are legends in the faith to us were alive today, they'd be canceled, they would not be allowed in churches. And I just thank God like, I just thank God that he's man, he has really shown me like in the moment of someone going through a moment that's what it is it's a moment. You know, it's like, hey, you got a rough day, man, did you repent? Are you getting right with God? Okay great, let's keep going. And I've really lived this out with a lot of the people within my team, guys that I discipled they are having a rough moment or a rough day. You know, I think a lot of times the offense we carry is, you know, you should know better. I mean, to me that's pride. Like you should know better, man, you're human you had moment okay like, what athlete doesn't have a moment where they don't want to get up and go to the gym or they pig out on a burger or they do, you know. That doesn't disqualify them from playing the Superbowl. You know, I don't know. That's just my rambling along. - That's so, so good man, love it. And so much of that stuff was exposed in us last year just with the global pandemic. But I also know that with the global pandemic it led to so many shifts in ministry. And you guys transitioned to doing so much on TikTok and crushing it online. What are some of those shifts you've made? I know y'all have made a ton, y'all are reaching so many people. - I think that we've realized we don't want to influence a kid for 30 minutes only at a high school. We want to influence for 30 minutes in the gym, but we want to influence their life every single day. And so we, you know, I think I'm at almost 270,000 on TikTok. One Voice Jesus Clubs is at 700,000. We carry stadiums in our pockets now. We have access to youth and young people that we've never had access to. And so I mean, I think for us man, we just want to, the message stays the same but the vehicle in which it's delivered changes. Jesus delivered his message with some sandals and a donkey. I deliver them in some Yeezys, in a Chevy truck, you know, the delivery method changes but the message and the mission always stays the same. - So good and such an opportunity to reach and disciple people every day, multiple times a day, rather than just one moment in a high school or in a stadium. And it's been awesome seeing you guys make those shifts, trust the Lord and see thousands of people right, saved. Thousands of Gen Z young people come to know Jesus as a result of you guys being open to the spirit and making some of those shifts. - Yeah, it's crazy. - Okay, couple more questions we'll wrap up after that. Actually two more real quick. What are a few things that people have to know if they are gonna try and reach young people today with the gospel? - What do they got to know? They have to know that they know nothing. I think it's coming to the understanding that we all have a lot to learn. I think when we think we know something and that's what disqualifies us. Knowledge puffs up, love builds up. And so, I mean, when I get with a young person, I don't think I'm better, I don't think I'm smarter. I think I have a little bit different understanding than they do, but I don't see myself as the hero. I see man, they have the potential to change their generation. You know, I'm on day 14 of a fast right now and I'm fasting for authority in this generation. I believe that the Lord showed me man, we have influence but influence is very different than authority. Influence makes you seem cool, authority gets things done. And I, you know, yesterday I had a weak moment where I just wanted to eat and quit. And I told my wife, I got enough breakthrough in this fast, you know, it's been 13 days and I'm on liquids and I'm done fasting. And somebody had a dream about me and that they sent me and they said in the dream I was in upper rooms foyer and there was about 30 people that were around me cursing me. And in the dream they were hurling insults against my fast. And he said outside were hundreds and hundreds of youth that begin to flood into the foyer and they moved past this crowd of 30 and begin to thank me and saying thank you for fasting. Thank you for fasting, thank you for fasting. I'm fasting because no knowledge of mine can shift what's happening in the country. Man I need God to sovereignly move. And I think we have to understand from the Old Testament that there are prayers and fasting that move messages and angels and demons. I mean, it's just, if you don't believe that you just got to go read these scriptures of you know, Daniel, who's literally, there's this roar in the heavens as he's praying and as he's fasting. And I think, you know, I think we always emphasize on methods, but if I could humbly say this as a millennial, I think the methods that we're used in my generation has created the crisis in the youth today. Instead of praying and fasting they gave us guitar hero, they gave us video games. They gave us drinking soda through a sock. They tried to be relevant to the culture and they created a millennial generation that very few of us were taught to pick up our cross, deny ourselves. We were entitled because we weren't taught to lay our lives down. And where our generation didn't want to lay our lives down for God you see the next generation believing they are God. And so I think for me man, we have a lot of life coaches. I was joking around with my wife I said, we need some people that are coaching you how to lay down your life, to help find it. You know, and so I don't know man, I don't willfully have all the answers but I would just say you you could start off by knowing you don't know everything. - Yeah, so good. Such a helpful response. I think we think we have to know every tactic, every way, how to relate when we just got to keep it simple. Jesus kept it simple. The gospel is simple. He said, come and follow me. And as we're going following Jesus, teaching other people to follow Jesus. Well dude, where can people keep up with the Jesus Clubs, you, One Voice? Where can they get more information about everything that God is doing through you all? - They can go to ovsm.com. Or they can go to the jesusclubs.com. You can go to any social platform like TikTok, Instagram, type in the Jesus Clubs with an S or One Voice Student Missions and you can find us there and join the story. I mean, we got people of all ages that are on TikTok. We train this 65 year old pastor from gateway, in a matter of a month, he's at 17,000 followers on TikTok. He said thank you for making me cool with my grandkids. I mean, he has more followers than all his grandkids put together. His grandkids are seeing his videos come up on their For You page. I want to encourage you age is not an excuse, it's an invitation. - Yeah, that's awesome. Well, to those watching or listening, man, everybody is struggling with something. And a lot of times we think that God's not gonna use me or can't use me until I finally get over to that thing or until I'm finally perfect. But like Brian said today, we've been talking about God wants to use us in our struggles. You know, in our struggles we can relate to other people. We talk about how Jesus is healing us and salvation is not just about getting saved and going to heaven, super important but it's about being healed as well and overcoming stuff here and now. And wherever you're at, Jesus can heal you, he can save you and he can set you free. Hope you were encouraged by this today. Hey Brian, thanks so much for your friendship. Thanks for moving to Texas from California being closer. And man, thanks so much for being on the podcast today. - Well, thanks man. - [Ben] Thanks for checking out the Resolution Podcast. To go deeper on today's topic, get my new book, "Free to Thrive" at resolutionmovement.org as well as access a variety of free resources. If this episode encouraged you please take a moment to rate it, share it and subscribe. You can listen to us wherever podcasts are found, as well as watch the visual version of each episode on our YouTube channel. Connect with us by searching Resolution Movement on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and YouTube. See you soon. (upbeat music)