Heather Thompson Day had heard it before: Someone thought she should start a podcast. In fact, people kept reaching out to the communications professor. An article she had written, a tweet she had posted—it resonated with them and they wanted to hear more.

The thing was, she just didn’t have the time.

“I said to the Lord,” she recalled, “‘If you want me to have a podcast, you will send me somebody who will do all of the back-end work, the ads, the editing.’”

A year went by. And then Ed Gilbreath, Christianity Today’s vice president of strategic partnerships, reached out. Gilbreath had read a recent article by Heather in Newsweek and messaged her.

“Ed said, ‘If you were to have the support of CT, what would you do?’” she recounted. “I knew it was God saying, ‘This is the time and this is the place and Ed is your person.’ And he has just been such a wonderful mentor to me.”

Heather already had the name of her show picked out: Viral Jesus. Now, with nearly 100 episodes since it launched in 2021, the podcast features long-form interviews with a diverse array of evangelical thought leaders, theologians, and journalists, as well as a more recent “Monday Mediation” series where Heather riffs on spiritual topics close to her heart. Enthusiastic Apple Podcast reviews suggest it has deeply resonated with her audience.

“She is exactly the kind of Christian I want to be when I grow up and she meets wherever I am spiritually in her books and her podcast,” one reviewer wrote in a blurb titled “Spiritually Seen.”

“This is the podcast you need when you [are] trying to get to the root of how you feel and what you think…These are the Christian friends I wish I had growing up,” said another reviewer.

Creating these types of spaces, whether in her classroom, on her social media accounts, or during Viral Jesus, has long been important to Heather, whose childhood was defined by her expulsion from her Christian junior high school.

“My principal said, ‘Heather, sometimes one bad peach will spoil the whole crate. So we have to remove the bad peach,’” she said. “That was me.”

“Because I was a part of Christian education, it didn’t just feel like my school didn’t want me—it felt like God didn’t want me,” she said. “[That was] probably the core wound that also became the core motivator for my entire life.”

Heather has a strong affinity for Gen Z, a community that she has characterized as having a sense of hopelessness.

“When I first got into college ministry, 12 years ago or so, what I loved about it is it was like this imaginary land of pixie dust, and ‘You can be anything’ and ‘I can change the world’ and ‘Who’s going to stop us?’” she said. “It's not like that anymore.”

The antidote to this sense of despair, Heather believes, is mentors.

“I don’t think the church is struggling in its theology,” she said. “I really think it’s struggling with relationships. I am committed to creating space, even if it’s just in my classroom, where somebody has an experience—I hope with the Holy Spirit—where they feel like they belong.”

This was the opposite of what Heather herself felt from the classrooms she sat in as she worked her way through the education system, all the way up to her PhD.

“This is the loneliest generation in history. Studies show they score, I think, 10 points lonelier than even senior citizens,” she said.

Given these challenging realities, Heather says she is “genuinely encouraged” that CT is trying to build bridges with the next generation.

“I see our podcast as part of that effort,” she said. “Not a week goes by that I don’t receive an email or a DM [direct message] from a college student who has been encouraged by the podcast.”

One recent listener reached out to Heather after she shared a story of one of her best friends praying about finding a husband.

“A woman reached out who was under 35, which is not part of CT’s typical audience, and she was sharing how much that testimony on the podcast meant to her as a single Christian woman,” she said. “She said she often feels ignored in church conversations and was grateful that Viral Jesus took the time to encourage women like her.”

Last season, Heather interviewed two of her students about struggles they had had in their faith and what they had learned from a recent mentorship course.

“CT has given me a space to challenge, encourage, and also promote voices of people who are often left unheard in Christian spaces,” she said. “I received letters from parents saying they played that episode with their kids. It was a moment for parents to better understand the frustrations of their children, and Gen Z to feel heard and be given a seat at the table. I am very grateful to CT for supporting this ministry.”

For Thompson Day, training and equipping the next generation is about making sure the entire body of Christ is functioning correctly.

“The biggest thing CT has done for me personally is allowed me to be aligned with such a credible and impactful organization. I feel good about my partnership with CT because I think their reputation is one marked by sincere discipleship,” she said. “I am also personally grateful for their Big Tent Initiative. Young people don’t care about denominational lines like older generations did. I am more interested in what people have in common than in where they differ. So that forward-thinking aspect of CT is one that I hope is also visible in how I do ministry.”