Reclaim the Testimony: Nix the Stats

Reclaim the Testimony: Nix the Stats
Guess what? I’m away on a two-week vacation to the east coast. And…I’m eating lots of yummy stuff. Bring on more ice cream! Bring on post-vacation burpees! While I’m away, I’m sharing a couple of my favorite old posts.

Storytelling. It’s a tradition as old as, well, the Bible. 
But somewhere along the line some of our churches have forgotten how to tell them.  Perhaps it was the rise of tele-evangelists who were often seen boo-hooing as they told a story about how faith transformed their lives. As well-informed, rational mainliners, we would never, ever, EVER want to be like them. Thus, we nearly gave up storytelling all together and tried to convince people on an intellectual basis that what we had to say indeed had validity.
But we should have consulted science. Because social science research has shown that engaging people’s hearts – especially when it comes to charitable giving – is much more effective than trying to win them over with statistics.

In their excellent book, Made to Stick, the Heath brothers, Dan and Chip, recount the famous “Rokia” experiment carried out by researchers at Carnegie-Mellon. Students were given $5 one-dollar bills for taking a bogus survey at a coffee shop. On their way out, they were given one of two letters about “Save the Children” charity. Letter One recounted the horrifying statistics of the food shortages in Africa. There were millions of people starving and dying from lack of food and clean water. Letter Two focused on “Rokia,” a seven-year old girl from Mali and how she was facing abject poverty and starvation. Nary a statistic was given but after reading the letter, the reader had a clear mental picture of Rokia and her plight. 
A story was told. 
You can guess which letter received larger donations. In fact the difference was startling. The average donation given for the statistics-filled letter: $1.14.  For the Rokia Story: $2.38. When they combined statistics and a story? The average gift was $1.43
Deborah Small, of the Wharton School of Business, who helped conduct the study said, “What we find is that when people are thinking more deliberatively…they become less generous overall.”
So, what’s this got to do with stewardship?  Quit trying to convince people of the worth of your church by talking about your budget.  
Tell them a story – preferably about one person. It’s time for mainline churches to recapture the old-fashioned testimony. Our churches are doing great things.  Let’s be bold enough to tell somebody. And according to science, people will be moved to support it. 
(Originally posted October 2012)
Cesie Delve Scheuermann (pronounced “CC Delv Sherman,” yes, really) is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past fifteen years, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over three million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. With twelve days of vacation, she better decrease her ice cream intake or increase her burpees output. She was the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Lay Leader from 2008-2012. Her position with the Conference is funded through a generous grant from the Collins Foundation. She is available to consult with churches. You can reach her at inspiringgenerosity@gmail.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/inspiringgenerosity.
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Cesie Delve Scheuermann
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.