Smartphones, social media, video calls. The past two decades have brought significant changes to how we use technology to interact with people. How do we adjust in Ministry Partner Development? Cru MPD Leaders Michele Davis and Abbie Keel join Katie and Jason to talk new tools, new language, and how to leverage technology in our efforts to invite others into the mission.
Cru staff can find the updated Referral Script here and new Conversation Guides here (password protected).
Jason Ruch: Hey there, support raising missionaries. We’re excited for you to hear this podcast with Abbie Keel and Michele Davis. Lots of updates for our Cru missionaries in particular, but really helpful principles and ideas for all of us who trust God for teams of prayer and financial partners to be about his work. Coming up in August, we’ve got two excellent conversations about how to pursue healthy MPD as teams, so be sure to stay tuned. Make sure to check us out, the Cru MPD Podcast, on Buzzsprout or your favorite podcasting app, and please interact with Katie and I on our Facebook page, on Instagram, and also on Twitter. Search for the Cru MPD Podcast, and you’ll find us. Thanks so much for listening. Let’s dive in with Michele and Abbie.
Welcome to the Cru MPD Podcast with Katie Johnson and Jason Ruch. We love that the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. We are driven to equip and inspire laborers to be Christ-centered, fully-funded, and financially faithful so that the missionaries can get in front of lost people and tell them about Jesus. We’re really excited today to welcome Abbie Keel and Michele Davis, both on staff with Cru. Welcome ladies.
Michele Davis: Hey.
Jason Ruch: Good to have you with us. Why don’t you -- why don’t we start by just having you introduce yourselves a little bit more? Tell us what your role is on staff with Cru and maybe a little bit about where you live and your family.
Michele Davis: Okay. Yeah. I’m Michele Davis, and I live in Columbus, Ohio. I’ve been on staff with Cru for like 18 years. Feels like a long time.
Jason Ruch: That’s great.
Michele Davis: And was on a local team here in Columbus before moving over to the MPD, Ministry Partner Development, world. My husband, Joe, is not on staff anymore, but he was for a time. He’s now a nurse. And I’ve got two kids. They’re great. They’re doing something over in another part of my house right now, hopefully. And my job right now is I am the Director of Innovation and Resources for Ministry Partner Development, a part of the U.S. National MPD Team, which just needs like two business cards to get all that on there.
Jason Ruch: There’s a lot there, isn’t there? Yeah.
Michele Davis: It’s a long title. Basically, my job is to make sure that every resource and element of our MPD training that we have is as effective as it -- as possible and to apply innovation and outside-the-box thinking in order to ensure that. And, so, I feel like I just get to live the dream and solve problems and help our staff and -- I don’t know. I like puzzles and problem solving, so this seems like a good fit.
Jason Ruch: A great fit. Awesome. Thanks Michele. How about you, Abbie?
Abbie Keel: My name’s Abbie Keel, and I live in the Atlanta, Georgia area on the north side with my husband, Jason, who is also on Cru staff. I am a Cru staff kid, so I feel like I’ve been on staff my whole life. My parents still serve on staff in Central Illinois. We have three teenagers in our house, so never a dull moment. But we love it. This is kind of our favorite stage of life so far. Well, my favorite stage of life so far.
I actually serve as the Director of Training for MPD on the U.S. National MPD Team, which means I oversee all trainings having to do with our staff and raising their support, from interns to coaches to new staff to senior staff, so all those things. So it’s a large-scale job, but I have lots of people who have jumped in who help out in all those various spaces. But I have a background in education, in educational development, and so this is really also kind of a sweet spot for me to be operating in and doing all the things I love and feel passionate about in equipping our staff.
Katie Johnson: Awesome. We are so glad you guys are here. We’re excited to have you on our podcast today. And, so, we wanted to start -- you guys have kind of been spearheading this change from what Cru formally used, Vision and Calling Albums or VACAs to now Conversation Guides. And, so, I think one of the big questions a lot of staff are wondering: What is a Conversation Guide?
Abbie Keel: Sure. Let me answer that. So, as we began to just look at our changing culture and our demographic and how people in our society are communicating with one another, we realized we needed to come up with a more effective tool than a three-ring binder with some pages and some pictures in it. And, so, we wanted to create, also, not just something that was customizable for each staff person but also contextualizable. As we bring in people from other ethnic communities who might communicate differently -- and, so, we wanted to create something that was contextualizable for all of our staff also. But, because we are living in an increasingly digital space, we wanted to create something that was also digital, which makes it easy, right, to customize and to update.
What we really want to do, though, is -- especially as senior staff people who have been missionaries for awhile, we know that the vast majority of our communication about our ministry happens in informal spaces. And, so, we needed to create a tool that was going to work in more informal spaces. But we still wanted to have a way to help our staff have what we call a guided conversation so that they’re not just talking to somebody and hoping to maybe slip in some pieces about their ministry but have kind of a more focused way of talking about their ministry in a way that still feels relational and engaging but professional at the same time.
So we’ve created a digital tool that’s a very simplified version of, if you’ve used any kind of VACA or something -- where there’s usually just one image and a word. So it gives your partner or potential partner a visual something to look at, a face to go with the name or a visual to go with a city or a location. And that’s a cue for us, as staff people, to know what it is that we want to be sharing in that part of our conversation so that we can get our staff learning how to really engage well with story and get to the end point of inviting people into partnership with them.
Jason Ruch: Yeah. I mean, I think the power of images is evident in the last decade, plus, here with social media in particular, like in Instagram -- we’re an Instagram culture. So images communicate the -- a bit of a cliché. A picture -- what’s -- how does it go? Thousand words picture.
Abbie Keel: A picture’s worth a thousand words.
Jason Ruch: A picture is worth a thousand words. That’s good. See? Michele is taking a picture of us on Zoom. This is fantastic. But that I think is something that, I think, I’m encouraged that we’re continuing to capitalize on and see as effective in helping us communicate to prospective partners.
Katie Johnson: So I know a lot of you are probably wondering where we can get these Conversation Guides to be able to use in our ministries, and so we just wanted to let you know they should be on StaffWeb under the MPD section. And, so, you can look there. You can download, customize, and start using those today.
Jason Ruch: Awesome. Yeah. So, for our Cru staff, that’s the great place to find those. And, if you’re listening, you’re a missionary, you’re not with our staff, hey, we’d love to hear from you. Tell us what you’re using, what tools you’re using to most effectively communicate with prospective partners and current partners. You can comment on our Facebook page. We’d love to hear a little bit more about what other ministries and missionaries are doing as well.
One of the things, ladies, that we’ve been talking about recently is the differences in the way generations communicate. When I came on staff -- I’m dating myself here -- landlines only, right, no Interwebs. We just didn’t have that stuff. So it was a different time of communication. And, for a long time, we’ve continued to emphasize the phone as a primary way to reach people and set up appointments. What can you tell us about what kinds of shifts we’ve made lately? And how does that differ by generation?
Michele Davis: Yeah. Well, what’s magical about phones today is that there’s so much more. I just took a picture of us on Zoom. There’s a bazillion apps. My brother was actually just joking with me today that I probably have more power in my back pocket than what a giant computer at a university had [cross talk] years ago. So we are wanting to be sure our staff are prepared for and equipped to just stay at pace with communication trends. And the reality is is that different generations gravitate towards different social media apps. But, for Cru staff and other missionaries, we kind of have to know the breadth of them, even if it’s not our personal favorite. So, for our youngest staff who’ve maybe given up on Facebook just as a personal choice, that’s where all the Boomers live, and so you need Facebook. You know? You do. You need Facebook Messenger. You need to use it. Instagram is kind of middle of the road and a lot of people are there. And you can send direct messages there.
We’ve also seen staff use apps like Marco Polo. Or I think Google Duo is a newer app, and it does this too where you can just send a video. It’s almost like a voicemail. So it’s not a live call, but it’s you and your face and you’re saying like, “Hey, I want to talk to you more about my ministry. I’m wondering when is a good time to connect.” And they can just -- I think the thing is is that the newest, shiniest app on my phone is probably what I haven’t turned off the notifications for, and I’ll answer it first. And, for some generations, they are just starting to abandon things that seem bread and butter, like email or whatever. So you just have to -- we have to prepared for everything.
We still make phones calls, right?
Jason Ruch: Yeah. So tell us -- yeah. Tell us about that. I mean, it -- so I know, for our staff in particular as we are -- we want to set goals and see a certain level of effort. For years, we’ve said, “Here’s how many phone calls you need to make every week.” So how has that changed? Are we done making phone calls? Talk to us a little bit [cross talk].
Michele Davis: We’re not done making -- we’re definitely not done making phone calls. For some people that is still the best way to get ahold of them, and it’s also -- you could argue that it’s still a bit more clear and direct form of communication than text messaging, maybe. Maybe use a text to get to a phone call so that you can just be more clear what you’re asking for in trying to set up an appointment or trying to explain an increase ask or follow up with another letter you sent. But I think what we’re noticing in the coaching world is that it’s -- it is a bit hard to measure how many text messages equals roughly what one completed call was 18 years ago.
And, so, what we’re starting to train our staff in is to just say whatever it takes to get in front of people, to get appointments. And, so, some of our staff might send 50 text messages in one day to set up three appointments, and some might get it done in three text messages. It depends on factors that are just a little outside of our control, so we just have to be prepared to be what I would call lovingly persistent, like endure in kind communication to get those appointments.
Jason Ruch: That’s awesome. Yeah. We love that phrase “lovingly persistent,” “graciously persistent.” I think this is good. I think it’s good for us to be ready to communicate in the most effective ways possible. So thanks for updating us on that. That’s awesome.
Michele Davis: Totally.
Katie Johnson: Yeah. So you mentioned leaving messages on apps like Google Duo and Marco Polo. Can you speak a little bit into video calls for appointments? Is that a good strategy? What’s the best way to do that? What does that look like?
Michele Davis: Yeah. I love video appointments, and I think that -- well, currently, in 2020, that’s a lot of all we have in some places because of social distancing and things like that. But I would propose that, even outside of global pandemics, it’s good to have proficient use of video appointments in your MPD toolbelt, so to speak, because there are just times when it can be really difficult to set up an in-person appointment with someone. And it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to talk about your ministry. It just means that they’re in a season of life that’s crazy.
I have a friend who I was trying to get a video appointment -- or trying to get an MPD appointment with them. I see them naturally three times a week -- well, when it’s not a pandemic -- because we’re in a small group together, we go to church together. But to see the husband and wife together when the kids aren’t interrupting where we could have a focused conversation about MPD was almost impossible to find. And, so, finally, even though they live 15 minutes from me, all these things, I was like, “Let’s just get on a video appointment after our kids are in bed. Then no one has to find a sitter. It’s just going to be a little bit easier.” And I already had a relationship with them, so it was pretty easy to jump in and do that. And, so, yeah. Had a video appointment with someone that is right here in my city, and it just worked out better schedule-wise.
Of course, also, a video appointment can save us some travel. So, if we’re getting referrals out of state -- let’s say that your cousin knows this person four states away who’s really excited about your ministry, but do you fly there? Maybe you should just video appointment first. If that person can introduce you to 20 friends, maybe fly out there. But, if it’s just one person, have a video appointment. And, so, that to say it’s worth our effort as missionaries to take some time to think through how we would have a video appointment, to think through and to even practice it with either a coach or a friend, another staff person, like here’s the pictures I would show. Here’s the story I would tell. And, then, also, I think the burden is on us to be familiar with a lot of different platforms for that so that we can do whatever they’re comfortable with. You know what I mean?
Jason Ruch: One of the things that we want our listeners to be aware of too as, Michele, as you’re talking about video appointments, Michele’s actually been on another podcast about support raising: Support Raising Solutions, SRS Podcast. So she talked with Aaron about -- really a lot about video appointments. In particular, right now while we’re recording this, we’re in the midst of some states coming out of lockdown in the midst of COVID-19, some are not. And, so, video appointments can be especially helpful right now. And, so, if you want to hear Michele talk a little bit more at length about that, check out the SRS Podcast.
So we’re talking a lot about texting. And I know -- I mean, even -- we talk about generations, but even my father’s generation, which is the Baby Boomer generation, they’re all over texting. So they’re familiar with it. It’s not just the kids that are using messages and texting, things like that. So one of the questions that might come up for missionaries is “What do I say in a text?” We’re used to short, little bursts of communication through texts. So how can we help our missionaries know what to say?
Michele Davis: Yeah. We were actually having this conversation with a senior staff group Abbie and I were working with about -- we’re trying to help our staff be more relational, but that doesn’t mean casual. So you don’t want to throw out some acronym that -- have you seen the one KWIM that stands for Know What I Mean? People may not know that.
Katie Johnson: I wouldn’t even know. I would have no idea.
Michele Davis: KWIM --
Jason Ruch: -- I would be lost on that one too.
Michele Davis: -- Know What I Mean? It’s a thing. But it also -- if you don’t know what it means, it just looks like you said some creepy word.
Jason Ruch: We’re just getting up to speed on LOL.
Abbie Keel: ROFL, Rolling on the Floor.
Jason Ruch: That’s right.
Michele Davis: Yeah. You’ll want to still keep your capital letters, your punctuation, your more professional representation language. But you can do that over text. We’ve put together some scripting. We’ve made it available to all of our new staff, and it’s available, I know for sure, for those who are in ReConnect. And we’re working on getting all that stuff on staff -- our StaffWeb eventually too for Cru staff.
But just some ideas of -- and it could be something like, if it’s a friend and I want to call them later, like, “Hey Amanda, I really want to give you a call. I’m not sure what time is good for you. What would be a good time for me to call?” Or like, “I’m planning to call around 4. Let me know if that’s not good for you.” Or, if you’re getting a referral from someone, I kind of personally like to write their -- with my new ministry partner, just have them shoot a quick text to their friends, like, “Hey, I’m sitting right now with my friend Michele. She’s a missionary with Cru. I’m sending her your way. Here’s her number.” Here’s the key. “Save this number in your phone so that your Google Assistant doesn’t screen it out for you.” Have you noticed that? I just got a new phone, and it screens calls aggressively. It thinks everything’s a scam if it’s not [cross talk].
Jason Ruch: Check your settings on your phone. Right.
Michele Davis: Check your settings. My daughter’s teacher tried to call me, and it thought it was a scam. It was not. It was third grade. Check your settings. But other people maybe haven’t checked their settings. So I think the whole pre-text to make sure they have your number, that they know who’s calling, that they know what to expect helps a ton -- helps a ton with that.
Katie Johnson: That’s great. And I, yeah, I’m curious with all the new scripting -- I know there’s some more new scripting you guys have been working on. And, so, what other new scripting has come out? Specifically, is there a new referral script? And what does that look like? How have you changed it?
Abbie Keel: Yeah. As we’re changing our language from an MPD presentation to an MPD conversation, we’re just trying to make it as natural and relational as possible. And one of those things is, yes, changing our scripting. And our referral script is one -- the referrals-gathering process is one of the hardest parts of raising support. Everybody knows it. But it’s probably, arguably, also one of the most important pieces of that.
And, so, there are some key elements that we want to have in an ask for someone to refer us and to introduce us to their friends. The most important thing is to keep it simple and to keep it natural. It’s only as awkward as you make it. And, so, one of the ways that we -- that I do this, and we train our new staff to do this with Cru, is to lead with vision and not with me. So we know that we need other people to join us, but we don’t want to lead with “I need more people.” We want to lead with “I love sharing about my ministry with as many people as possible. Are there others that you think would be encouraged to hear about what we’re doing? Maybe someone in the Bible study that you’re in on Tuesday nights that you were talking about.”
And, so, we want to ask for names. Obviously, we want to ask people to make introductions. We want them, maybe, to qualify those names. If they give us three names of people, ask “Who do you think I should talk to first?” We always want to ask them to lend their credibility. So “Would you mind introducing me to your friend?” Rather than me just calling Joe Smith, it makes a lot more sense if my friend introduces me. Just like Michele was saying, “Hey, I’m sitting right here with my friend Michele. I’d love to send her your way,” to do that. Anytime our friends can lend us their credibility, it goes a long way. And, in some ethnic communities, you’re going to need that. You’re going to need to have someone -- and maybe even that person is going to go on an appointment with you to introduce you in person to the family or the person that they’re going to introduce you to. And that’s just really important. And, then, just get contact information if you can. And, sometimes, that’s going to take a little longer because they’re going to want to check with your friend first and make sure it’s okay for you to talk to them and then pass on information.
But, really, we want to keep it as simple as possible. When you get to the end of your -- when you’re kind of wrapping up your time together, just say something simple, like “This has been really fun. Can you think of anyone else who would be encouraged to hear about my ministry?” And, then, always suggest a category. So as you’re listening, as you’re talking, you know they’re in a prayer group. You know they’ve got a neighbor that has been a missionary or something. Give them some categories to think through rather than just putting people on the spot that way.
If you live and serve and are raising support in a much more indirect community -- the community has a more indirect communication style, you might just be very general and just saying, “As you can imagine, it will take a large team of people to help me do this, and I would be honored if you would introduce me and then lend your credibility in your community to help me build my team of partners.” In that case, we would keep it very general and not kind of push for names in those communities. We want to honor the people that we’re talking to and kind of respect their process there. But, in the majority culture -- in the white majority culture, feel free to just offer categories and just say, “I would just love to talk with people about this.
Jason Ruch: Awesome. Thanks so much, Abbie. I love that. I mean, I think for -- especially for those of us on Cru staff, we’re familiar with -- we’ve changed the way to ask people to introduce us to others a number of times over the years, and it’s really shortened now.
Michele Davis: I was just going to say I think that part of the simplifying is because we were seeing, as people kind of wind up for the pitch and say a lot, it can lead to this nervousness and almost talking them out of it. So just keep it simple.
Jason Ruch: Yeah. That’s great.
Michele Davis: Don’t wind up so hard for the pitch.
Jason Ruch: Yeah. Excellent. That’s great. So yeah. And I think the bottom line here is we’re simply looking for other people who are with us in the mission. I mean, we are united by the Spirit of the living God, and we want to meet other people who know Jesus and want to make him known. So I love this. I think it’s going to be really helpful for missionaries, for our staff.
Another thing that we’ve been talking a lot about in particular in Cru -- and I know other missions agencies as well, churches -- is ethnic minority leaders and raising support, Ministry Partner Development, along with the topic of how can majority culture staff advocate for ethnic minorities in certain situations. So can you tell us how we’re thinking about MPD in light of ethnicity?
Abbie Keel: Sure. Sure. Well, it just comes down to the imago Dei, that we are all part of the imago Dei. And, so, we need people that don’t look like us to be part of mission with us to reach other people that don’t look like us from wherever we’re standing. And, so, one of Cru’s priorities at this point is to figure out how do we create an inclusive environment. We want everybody to join us in the mission. We don’t want to have a space that feels threatening or unsafe.
And, so, one of our priorities, really, in MPD and in MPD training right now is to create an open, welcoming, hospitable, and even a healing space for our staff. For lots of our staff who maybe have served in missions or with Cru with other spaces before, it can just be fairly traumatic to be raising support with little training or poor training. People have come to us with some trauma. So we want this to be a healing space where people feel welcome, where they feel heard, and where their experience is valued highly in how we now help them engage their communities in the missionary process. And, for lots of our staff, they might be the first people in their community to go as a missionary, to raise support. And that can be scary, but it can also be really visionary, blazing a trail. But they need our support and our encouragement.
And that’s part of, then, one way that our majority culture staff can come alongside and to advocate for them. And, by advocating, we’re talking about sharing resources, not financial resources necessarily -- that’s not a bad thing either -- but saying, “My partners are your partners. I have these friends that are super engaged in the vision of our ministry. I would love to introduce you to them.” So we’re sharing our resources with others. We’re not just throwing money at them, but we’re really introducing them and giving them a platform in spaces where they normally might not have access to those places. And, so, that’s something we’re really encouraging our staff to do is to stand in the gap for one another and share resources.
Jason Ruch: That’s so encouraging. I think one of the things we want to do -- Katie and I have talked a little bit about this -- is have more episodes, maybe even a series of episodes, on this very topic: What can we do differently? What are some ideas and strategies, both in the way of helping ethnic minorities themselves raise support, as well as majority culture people working in the realm of advocacy? So that’s great to hear.
Katie Johnson: Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing. I’m excited about the episodes about how to advocate, and so I’m excited to get those out too, Jason. Anyway, that’s all we have for you guys today question-wise. I mean, we’ve loved having you. This might not be the last time you’re on this podcast, I’m sure. But we really --
Jason Ruch: -- We’ll bring you back.
Katie Johnson: Yes. We really appreciate you guys leading in these areas of resources and training, and we’re just really thankful of how you’ve moved the direction of MPD and what -- the changes that have happened. And, so, we appreciated you coming on our podcast, updating staff and missionaries on the different ways that we do things now. And, so, thank you guys so much for taking the time. We really appreciate it.