EMPOWER ’23: Inaugural Student Rally draws hundreds, leads to 28 salvations

SBTC Youth Ministry Associate Brandon Bales (center) interacts with the crowd at the beginning of the Empower Conference Student Rally Tuesday evening at the Irving Convention Center. SBTC PHOTO

IRVING—Around 300 middle school and high school students flocked to the Irving Convention Center Tuesday evening to sing, pray, and praise God during a student rally that marked the official end to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s annual Empower Conference.

“We are thrilled this year to have the inaugural student rally,” SBTC Executive Director Nathan Lorick said prior to the event. “We are praying that God will place something in the hearts of these students that will spark a revival.”

God may have done just that, as 28 students prayed to receive Christ.

The warmup

Brandon Bales, SBTC youth ministry associate, warmed up the crowd with games and giveaways as the room filled with smoke, fog, strobe lights, and music while the large onstage screen displayed multi-colored Christian graphics, the name of Jesus, and words of faith.

Participants received black wristbands inscribed with gospel symbols and the words “JesusSave.Me.” Ryan Fontenot, SBTC evangelism consultant, explained the symbols: a heart representing the love of God, a division symbol representing sin, a cross representing Jesus, and a question mark suggesting the ultimate decision possible regarding Christ.

A worship team fronted by Jimmy McNeal, worship pastor at Austin Stone Community Church, led worship throughout the evening. Dallas-based Christian illusionist Brice Harney, who has performed for Toyota, Google, major television networks, and ministries including CRU, offered a fast-paced variety of tricks involving audience volunteers. Whether retrieving torn cards from his mouth, guessing names, or playing mental games, Harney fascinated the room.

After a disappearing trick with audience members, Harney ended his performance by warning students to go back into the world knowing the difference between reality and illusion.

The main event

Shane Pruitt, author and national Nex Gen director for the North American Mission Board, followed, beginning his message by posing several of life’s biggest questions: What is the purpose of my existence? Why am I here?

At Pruitt’s request, hands shot up throughout the auditorium as students admitted knowing friends struggling with suicidal thoughts or depression. Such feelings are often rooted in a lack of understanding their true purpose, Pruitt said, which is found only in Jesus.

“The Word of God points to the Word of God and His name is Jesus,” Pruitt said. “You literally exist to know Jesus. You are here to know Jesus and to make Jesus known.”

Speaking in an area known as the Bible belt of Texas, Pruitt said many people think they will go to heaven by being a good person. He challenged students to ask people how they think a person can go to heaven.

“Good people don’t go to heaven. Those who are saved by Jesus do,” Pruitt noted. “We may be good at sinning, but Jesus is better at saving. Jesus isn’t just sent from God. Jesus is God.”

Pruitt defined repentance and assured students of the security of their salvation. “When God comes to live inside of you, it changes everything. You are forgiven of sin: past, present, and future.”

He then presented the plan of salvation in simple, clear language. Sitting in church no more makes someone a Christian, he said, than does sitting in a McDonald’s make someone a Happy Meal.

“Now is your time,” he told the students as he led the gathering in prayer, including a prayer of salvation to which 28 young people indicated by raised hands that they had responded. Prayers and instruction regarding the need for believer’s baptism and the call to missions or ministry followed, to which other students responded.

Pruitt challenged students to pray for revival to break out in their schools, churches, neighborhood, and nation.

“You are a bold generation. You are a cause generation,” he said. “It’s time to live boldly and publicly for Him.”

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