Storytelling. It’s a tradition as old as, well, the Bible. But somewhere along the line 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 and rational 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. 11 million people starving and dying in Ethiopia. Four million Angolans fleeing their homes. 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 who 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. Curiously, guess what happened when they combined both 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 main-line 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.
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