Nick Runyon on What a 50-State Digital Evangelism Network Looks Like | Episode 012
Tune in to this week’s Future.Bible Podcast with our special guest, Nick Runyon. Nick is the executive director of Christian Vision (CV) North America. CV is a global ministry with a strategic goal to reach a billion people with the Gospel, using a variety of methods and media.
In this episode, Nick talks about their work on CV Outreach, an initiative which helps bridge the gap, brought about by changing technology and complexity, between the Church and the people. CV Outreach utilizes various online strategies, such as online advertising, web development, and social media, among others, with the end goal of connecting these people to CV Outreach’s partner churches.
Get to know more about Nick and his work through his website at www.CVOutreach.com.
06:21 And I’m quite surprised still in 2018 that there’s push back when you’d say anything digital with any Christianese jargon or term.
11:07 So, you know, I might present the idea online in 2.8 seconds that there’s a broken relationship with God that needs to be addressed, but I really want you to walk through that conversation at a deeper level with somebody in your local contacts who can engage you, talk about hard questions that we see in culture, talking about how does that relate to the Bible, what’s the Bible have to say about our relationship with God.
19:06 So this isn’t just a digital thing. I think the digital can inform, kind of our, now he didn’t say this but for the point of clarity, our real life activity and ministries. And we’re really excited to see that that cycle continue in the future with additional learnings. As we see things happening, we’re immediately turning that back out to our pastors to help them improve.
25:03 But when I’m giving of myself freely for somebody else’s benefit, namely the seeker and also the church that I’m trying to connect them to, I’m happy to just be the conduit to make that happen. That relationship, that conversation.
26:10 And it was just a simple verse in Luke, Luke 9 I think, and it said, “Then his disciples began arguing about which one of them was the greatest,” right? And his posts was like, “Does anyone else feel like we’re still stuck here on this page, in this story?” And sometimes we feel like, yeah, you know, we need to get beyond that and acting like the church that we should be, right?
Kenny: Hey friends of the interweb. This is Kenny Jahng for another installment of our Future.Bible Podcast, our journey as we go across the information superhighway, dropping in on innovators and entrepreneurs and collaborators for scripture engagement, people that are taking technology and applying them in creative ways to further scripture engagement. Today, I’m excited because across from me is a Nick Runyon. Nick, welcome to the show today.
Nick: Thanks, Kenny. Good to be here.
Kenny: So then we don’t have DJ Chuang as our conversation partner. So I should’ve worn orange to honor DJ, as everyone knows. We should’ve had an orange day. But we will push forward in the conversation. So Nick, really appreciate that you’re spending time with us. You are basically serving as executive director of CV North America. And it looks like you’re in Sunny Side, Texas, is that right?
Nick: Yeah, I am. Yeah, we’re in the North Dallas is where our office is located.
Kenny: So tell us a little bit about CV Outreach and what your role there is.
Nick: Yeah. So I lead a team of great people, many of whom I think, you know, Kenny, and you’ll probably back me up on this, that these guys are all smarter than I am. But that’s kind of the right balance, I think. I like it that way. So CV Outreach is this program that we’ve developed that really is built for and around equipping the local church. So we want to connect people in communities that are asking spiritual questions to the pastor in their neighborhood or in their context that has the answers.
Kenny: That’s awesome. And you’re using the web and technology to do that. And I think this is something that’s, I don’t know, it’s easy to gloss over casually, right? But it is what you guys are doing is doing it an actual and innovative way. How many churches and partners are you actually engaged with right now?
Nick: Yeah. So we’re up over 1300 partners.
Nick: And that’s on a global scale. So we’re really starting to push into a CV operates globally in about 22 different countries. And we’re excited to be rolling this out to some of our other teams and seeing really good success there as well.
Kenny: Wow. So, your scope is quite different from many other ministries. What is that needle that you’re trying to move? What’s the KPI? What, what is that? What’s the win at the end of the day? Because you’re not the one in the ministry sitting in the local church. You’re empowering them, helping them, enabling them. How do you see success on your side?
Nick: If I can, I’m going to give a little context. So I got into ministry out of the business world. So I was a marketing director for a startup, and we had developed a pretty successful model of customer acquisition. So using, you know, it was totally e-commerce using kind of a metric driven approach. We were able to grow quickly in the time I was there. We were on the INC 500 list four different times, and just kind of fast growth company. I left that to join a team in Silicon Valley who is really using the Internet to share the Gospel with people. And I thought in 2008 that was incredible. And it actually, it still is incredible. I mean, I think you’re pretty well traveled. The world is a really small place thanks to technology. I mean we can, I say all the time, like online and offline or blended, those two things are less and less distinct everyday, because we just have relationships and I think that relationship is key. So there’s access to people all over the world. And I think 10 years ago we were like, “Oh, let’s just share the Gospel with them. And then the end will come,” as the Bible says. For the record, I believe in the Bible. I think it’s inherent. I think it’s true. What I’ve seen though through that experience is that simply reaching people has an impact, but it’s often unknown to the ones that are doing the reaching. And what we were always really searching for is a method to establish people in relationship with the local church. And so when we started this team about four years ago, we started from that end goal first. So we said if we want to see people established the face-to-face discipleship relationship with their local church, understanding that our target is an unchurched, unengaged, unchurched engaged kind of person. How would we do that? And the Internet offers some incredible tools, but there’s this disconnect between the capabilities of most local churches and kind of the sophistication and functionality of things like outreach tools and systems and structures that are offered by technology. So that’s the setup for what I’m about to say, which is we wanted to take our kind of operational capacity in the area of marketing and digital evangelism, and make that available to churches everywhere, free of charge, completely for their benefit. And so people that are engaged, touched by the gospel, engaging with local pastors, they never hear about CV, they don’t about CVRH. And we’re happy about that because we want the first connection to be the last connection. So we’ve eliminated all the handoffs and when somebody is doing a spiritual search, responding to the Gospel, they’re connected with a pastor in their local area who can immediately engage them but also walk with them for the longterm.
Kenny: So you use the phrase that was interesting. It’s digital evangelism.
Kenny: And I’m quite surprised still in 2018 that there’s push back when you’d say anything digital with any Christianese jargon or term.
Kenny: But what do you mean by digital evangelism? How does that actually look on the web? What are you talking about? Where’s the Gospel message is presented? How is it presented? Literally what happens?
Nick: Yeah. So there’s 100,000 people a month in America that search the exact phrase, ‘what is the meaning of life?’ We see close to 200,000 people a month. We’ll go to google, we’ll type in the search bar, ‘How do I survive infidelity?’ You know, these are not specifically spiritual questions, but I think from our perspective we would say that the Gospel can be presented in this kind of context. And certainly like with the marriage questions or questions of infidelity, that type of thing. We talk about how broken relationships are really kind of a mirror of our broken relationship with our Heavenly Father. When this is happening in a digital context, that conversation or that presentation of the Gospel, that’s what I mean by digital evangelism.
Kenny: Is this done live in person? Is it text? Are you just giving them articles of ‘Five Ways to Reignite your Marriage?’ Is that what, you know, what are the types of resources that you’re actually presenting to them?
Nick: So we’ve done a lot of work with Facebook recently, and one of the things I found really surprising when we were out in Menlo Park a couple of weeks ago was that they said, ‘Average attention span on Facebook right now is two point eight seconds.’ And as a result, and obviously a lot of their traffic’s on mobile devices. They’re talking about the engaging nature of video to capture attention in a very short amount of time. This kind of validated a method that we’ve been using for a couple of years now, which is presenting answers to these questions through video. So we will help churches by, we’ll build out web pages, we have a full content library, there’s a range of topics, dozens of different kinds of topics and things that people would be interested in. And we immediately answered the question that they’re asking really kind of by asking another question about kind of what’s broken in your relationship with God. And we see really high engagement out of this. The majority of our stuff’s video. We do all kinds of things – we do live broadcasts, we have some texts, Gospel presentations. But I would say the majority and what we see the most impact with is that video content with a very clear short call to action, which is connect with somebody now. So after that presentation, that initial engagement, what we want to do is we want to see people connect in a relationship.
Kenny: And so if I’m on the web and I’m compelled to do what you’re asking, that next step, am I talking to someone at CV or a local church hop? How does that connection get made?
Nick: So we’ve created a network of pastors nationally and now, like I said before, expanding globally. And internally, we call it our local match tool. So across these hundreds of different Gospel presentations, dynamic landing pages that are serving up the right content with the right question. We have this call to action, connect with somebody now, um, which is running through our local match technology. And what that simply means is we’re identifying where this person is located, where are they searching from, and we’re connecting them immediately with a pastor who’s in our network. And we would even say, go as far to say they’re on our team, because these are tight relationships that we have with these local church leaders. And our goal is to eliminate all barriers because, I mean, think about it from like a sales context, you know. If I’m doing, I’m a web search for like a high dollar product online, I’m not going to just immediately throw down my credit card at the first sign of, you know, I’m looking for, you know, a couch, but you’ve really convinced me I need a whole seating solution for my house or something like that. You got to walk me through and I’ve got a lot of questions that need answered, you know, that’s where salesmen come in. I don’t want to make the inference that we’re selling the Gospel, but I think the same type of process is traveled by people that are spiritually sensitive and seeking. So, you know, I might present the idea online in 2.8 seconds that there’s a broken relationship with God that needs to be addressed, but I really want you to walk through that conversation at a deeper level with somebody in your local contacts who can engage you, talk about hard questions that we see in culture, talking about how does that relate to the Bible, what’s the Bible have to say about our relationship with God. So that first contact as much as possible it to be the last contact where in a local context somebody is building a relationship with a pastor for, you know, ongoing really evangelism and discipleship.
Kenny: That’s awesome. So if I’m in Dallas, Texas in the neighborhood of your system will know or identify that that’s where I’m dialing in from and that your system attempts to connect me with a church in my area so that later it doesn’t need to even be passed off, right? So I guess that efficiency is just, it’s really interesting. The Internet’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days, it’s relentless, and people are searching at all hours, across time zones. You must get a lot of queries. How many, do you have any, can you give us any sense of the scale or size of how many Gospel presentations are? How many site visitors or people that are asking questions and then they’re actually getting engaged with some sort of response and content?
Nick: Yeah. So I just did the, you know, we look at our numbers and the data all the time and have just kind of went through reporting for last month. So last month we saw over 3,800 people connected locally to a pastor in their local community. And we think that’s incredible. We think there’s also a lot more possible, but those relationships are building into professions of faith. They’re building into decisions to be baptized and I’m helping to build these local church communities. And our pastors, I was just looking at some of our correspondents. We have a private Facebook group for pastors that are in our network. And there was a conversation I saw this morning where a guys was just, they were sharing tips among one another about how to really establish trust quickly to where people feel that they can respond and kind of open up. So it’s amazing what people will put into a search box on the Internet and hit send, but when somebody fairly immediately comes back and says, “Hey, I’m here to talk and I just want to, I want to help in any way that I can.” Sometimes they kind of, it puts them on their heels and they stopped. They didn’t expect a real, “Oh, there’s a real person on the other side of this.” So the conversation was just, how do you quickly establish trust to, to help that go further and allow that ministry to continue. I think that’s a really cool thing that at scale we’re seeing not only people connected but really, thoughtfully, and from a heartfelt way engaged by their local church.
Kenny: Last time I caught up with your team, it was pretty much that you have coverage in all 50 states. Is that true at this point? I think you’re, you’ve hit all 50 states.
Nick: Yeah, that’s true. So our target is to connect people within 30 miles or less. We kind of feel like that’s a drivable distance in the US, you know, in other parts of the world that might be bigger or smaller depending on the context. We are in all 50 states, but we’re also looking at areas like a very populated area in San Francisco, because you have more people, we have more searches, we have more connections. And even though we’ve got, you know, a few churches in the bay area, there’s a need for more pastors and more churches to get involved. And then you might, we’ll also see places like Salt Lake City where you’ve got a lower population. But we might have a church in Utah, but we don’t have one that’s serving the people that are coming online, you know, within this 30-mile radius. So our team here is always kind of looking at that stuff, reaching out, and networking with pastors. And those are fun calls to say, “Hey, we saw your church, we think you’d fit,” kind of the kingdom-minded profile. It’s nondenominational. We have all flavors of churches. We’re looking for people that are really outreaching into their community and so we’ll call them up and say, “We’ve got people that are ready to connect or would you be interested in joining the team?” So it’s fun.
Kenny: So all the resources that you’ve put out must be a different today than when you first started. You guys have probably iterated in terms of the messaging and seeing what, again, knowing the personal relationships I have with some of the team members, I know that they are there. They are the nerdy guys that are optimizing, optimizing, their job is not done. They’re not taking 4-hour lunch breaks and naps in the afternoon. They’re looking at literally how do we improve, how do we improve, how do we improve, Right? Can you comment on that a little bit of we’re leaving it up to technology and this kind of stuff to do that where the Great Commission, each one of us in the body should be doing this. Are we equipping our people in the pews the right way? Is there, what is the opportunity there for churches to learn from what you guys are doing in terms of how they’re taking felt needs and matching them with a conversation that leads to a Gospel presentation?
Nick: Yeah, I think it’s a great question. And there’s, there’s two things I would say to that. One is that I’m always trying to promote this process of observing what’s happening, measuring the data, and then acting upon it. I think sometimes people maybe get a little too paralyzed in the analysis part of it where we’re just unwilling to take the next step. You never know everything. And so we’re very action-oriented – take an action, measure the results, figure out what happened, do something again, but keep moving forward. And we are, we’re championing that idea. We’re also, as we learn things, the whole, the whole system is set up to help make the local church successful. And so part of that is, and then inside our office, if you ask anybody, they’ll say success for CV Outreach is success as the church defines it. And so like, I can accomplish your mission, I’m accomplishing my mission in the process so I can work on your behalf freely. And part of that is as we learn things, we’ll feed them back into our community of pastors to be propagated. On our website we’ve got a loneliness report. We just saw that there was a lot of searching that was going on around the topic of loneliness. We started digging into that. We started doing some external research and realize that a former US attorney general came out with a report and said that ‘loneliness is epidemic proportions.’ People that are living in chronic loneliness. It has detrimental health effects equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. I mean, this is like an emotional problem that has real physical implications, which was all news to me. But we created a report on this whole thing identifying the top 10 loneliest cities in America. And we began to send that out to our pastors. What we saw was they’re consuming this content and also kind of altering how they’re engaging their communities in their kind of physical relationships with the community. So this isn’t just a digital thing. I think the digital can inform, kind of our, now he didn’t say this but for the point of clarity, our real life activity and ministries. And we’re really excited to see that that cycle continue in the future with additional learnings. As we see things happening, we’re immediately turning that back out to our pastors to help them improve.
Kenny: I’ve always said that they were in the midst of this huge communications shift and paradigm shifts that the church needs to wake up or get lost. And one of them is that I always frame it as the old OS versus the new OS. It’s almost like Windows 95 versus iOS on your iPhone, right? And that the old OS is leading with the tip of the sword question of, do you know if you’re going to go to heaven or how to go to heaven? That salvation question, which was the old, you know, my dad came out of evangelism classes, his church and he’s all proud and you know, “Kenny asked me about this question mark pin that I have on my label, don’t you want to,” And so I asked him, and that’s the question he starts with, I’m like, “You’re really going to go into the public and start with that?” Where today you have to start with felt needs and you need to go to transition moments, and that loneliness is one of those things that the church needs to become aware of. Those type of things doesn’t seem like it’s going to get better or go away, especially with social media, technology, etc. How do you increase the, how do you turbo-boost the things that you are doing that you know has a greater impact? How do you stay, how do you stay ahead of the curve or keep up with the rate of decline of culture like that on those metrics?
Nick: So we’re, we’re really trying to go to where the opportunities are. And so that’s a little bit of research, you know. I think the amazing thing about the Internet is that there’s all kinds of social signals that are available to us as marketers, if you want to call it that. So I can see what people are searching for, where they’re searching from, what type of online activity they have. Most of it’s anonymized, most of it. But we’re always kind of keeping our ear to the ground on that stuff. And you’re right, the entry point for the Gospel today is largely around felt needs in this type of context. And these are very real questions. So, you know, we, we’ve seen suicide on the rise. We’ve seen things like loneliness, we’re more connected than ever, but we’re more alone than we ever have been before, you know. This narrative is out there and people are feeling it. And so when you see somebody Googling like, ‘I just want to be happy,’ or ‘how can I lose another 30 pounds,’ and that will make my life okay. You know, stuff like this. People are broken. That’s nothing new.
Kenny: And you’re not exaggerating. People are literally putting those types of queries, right?
Nick: Yeah. I’m not making these up. Here’s, here’s kind of a funny thing, I think for the Christians that are listening, you know, around Thanksgiving time every year we see, ‘how do I pray for dinner?’ And it’s like, you know, you’ve got somebody that’s grandma’s invited them for Thanksgiving dinner and they know they’re going to be asked to pray and they’re literally Googling, ‘how do I pray for Thanksgiving dinner?’ Well, even though that’s kind of a light type of subject, that’s a great entry point into talking about prayer. What is it? You’re literally talking to the God of the universe and that’s a prompt for a really deep conversation about our relationship with God. So we are looking at all of that stuff and we are nondiscriminatory in terms of what we will, what type of content we will produce in order to engage people in that Gospel conversation.
Kenny: Nice. And then obviously we’re, the name of our podcast is Future.Bible. What is the future for parachurch ministries or ministries like yours that are helping? Do you think this type of service or activity is something that’s going to be eventually adopted and brought into the church staff and system and structure, or is this always going to be on the periphery?
Nick: I sure hope it’s adopted and what I’m talking about specifically is I hope that this idea of sharing your stuff and removing ourselves from the process is adopted. I think that a lot of organizations, maybe even a lot of churches have a process to where they are adding unnecessary steps to a process of discipleship or Gospel engagement because for all sorts of reasons. I think primarily we think that we have to be involved add value. One of the things that we’ve done is we recognize what our strengths were. Our strengths are: we’ve got some knowledge, we’ve got some skills around marketing and that kind of thing. We do all this work for the church, with the church, all for their benefit. And we don’t lose. We actually, we all win. And so I think we see this principle like the sharing economy is more prevalent in the business world than it is in the church world. But when I’m giving of myself freely for somebody else’s benefit, namely the seeker and also the church that I’m trying to connect them to, I’m happy to just be the conduit to make that happen. That relationship, that conversation. I would love to see that become more prevalent where people are kind of operating in their lane on behalf of the benefit for other people. And I think that, well, you know, I think that part of the world’s, I’m only thinking of wrong words to use. Part of the struggle that the world has with Christianity and with the Bible from the outside looking in, is that, you know, they’re very quick to label us as hypocrites because the Bible say you should give freely and you should be generous and all these things. So sometimes we hold a little bit too tightly, and maybe we should use our own positions to leverage those for the benefit of brothers and sisters, and you know, whatever their strengths happened to be.
Kenny: It reminds me of a social post that my friend, Rich, just posted today. And it was just a simple verse in Luke, Luke 9 I think, and it said, “Then his disciples began arguing about which one of them was the greatest,” right? And his posts was like, “Does anyone else feel like we’re still stuck here on this page, in this story?” And sometimes we feel like, yeah, you know, we need to get beyond that and acting like the church that we should be, right?
Nick: I think, I hope that your listeners will realize that I realized that I’ve been part of that problem in the past. So this is not throwing stones, this is more of like a collective like, “Hey look, we kind of did it this way and it’s working really well. I would love to see other people give their stuff away for the benefit of others.”
Kenny: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well thank you so much for spending time with us today and sharing your wisdom and the things that you’ve learned. You know, one of the questions that we ask our guests is looking forward. If you had a magic wand and you were able to wave this wand and anything can happen, endless resources, endless time, endless bandwidth, what would be the one thing that you would see happen with Bible and technology?
Nick: I think technology predictions are always both fun and kind of ridiculous. One of the things that I would love to see in this, I don’t know if there’s, there’s probably no market for this at all, is it only serves a personal need. What I love is going deep in the context of, what am I trying to say, like the context of that verse or scripture is written in and like kind of all of that deep study. When you listen to really good pastor who just begins to like pick apart a verse and begin to describe kind of what’s happening in the historical context this was written in, what’s the Greek roots and all this stuff. I know that those tools exist, but I’ve got a little bit, I’ve got enough ADHD to where I’m like, “I’m not gonna I’m not going to dive deep.” You know what I mean? So this is just pure laziness on my part, but I would love to be able to dial up something really quick, kind of like a combination of chain reference and deep dive. And maybe that exists, I don’t know.
Kenny: There is. So there is one partner that’s starting the tip of the iceberg. I think there’s much more potential in a lot of people are saying similar things is Robert Rouse at www.viz.bible. He’s a big data expert and has taken a visual representation of big data and apply that to the Bible. And it’s a fascinating website that you can nerd out on. So that’s one place to go. And then speaking of that type of thing, why don’t we share a little bit about what you’re going to be doing on November the 9th in Nashville, Tennessee in particular?
Nick: Yeah. So I’ll be speaking at the FaithTech Conference, which I’m really excited about. This is kind of a new group that I was first, this is where online and offline are blended. So James Kelly leads this group. I met him on a Zoom call. He was in Canada. I was here. We were with a room full of people that were in Silicon Valley like, this is totally a digital relationship that is moving into real life, which I’m excited to meet him in person. But he’s putting this on and just putting an incredible group of speakers to come together and talk about faith in technology and the kind of the confluence of those things. So, right up your alley, I’m going to have fun being there with you, too. We’ll see how it goes.
Kenny: Yeah. A bunch of our friends is, it’s a small community, right? And so November 9th. It’s the brand new LifeWay building. If you know the story, they blew up literally the old building and there’s this high-tech building that they are now occupying. So it’s going to be fun to be in that space, and would love to see all the listeners here to come out and meet us. So you can get information at www.faithleads.tech is the website. They have a new gTLD kind of like .bible. Yeah, I’m looking forward to hearing some of the thought leaders, you included. And I think it’s going to be, it’s one of those current places that I think is needed in our Christian culture, kingdom culture, so that we keep on visually seeing collaboration, discussion, innovation happen so that it’s a model for everyone else, you know, on a daily basis. So I’m really looking forward to seeing you there.
Nick: Same here. It should be fun.
Kenny: And lastly, if someone wants to get in touch with you directly after listening today’s story, what’s the best way that someone could do that?
Nick: Well, I think, I encourage people to check out our website, www.CVOutreach.com, talks about, you know, all of the things that we’ve discussed here. There’s connection, opportunity. So for the pastors that might be listening and say, “Hey, I might be in one of these areas where they want to connect with people in their local community,” we build all the technology for you, you get all the benefits. So that’s at www.CVOutreach.com. Like you, I’m active on all the social medias. Instagram is Nicholas Runyon, and Twitter is the always memorable @runyonski.
Kenny: Runyonski, yes I love that name. Well, thanks again for being with us. And for our listeners and viewers, please know that we appreciate you being part of our tribe. And we want your input, we want your thoughts and suggestions. Please leave a comment and give us some feedback, because we want to be the number one destination where you’re going to be innovators ready to talk about what we can do and applying the always-evolving world of technology to the never-changing message found in the Bible all for deeper engagement with Scripture. So thank you for listening to this episode of Future.Bible podcast. We’ll have DJ Chuang back in the saddle, in front of the mic with me next time. In the meantime, head over to our headquarters at www.future.bible. Be blessed and remember to be a blessing.