Less Clutter, Less Noise 1) The Myth: You Are In Control of Communication

remote control
Written by Ed Cyzewski

remote controlThe first time I worked at a church, I was part of launching both a newsletter and web site, two of the most powerful communication tools available. If you wanted to find anything about our church, you could find it online provided you had a good scrolling wheel on your mouse and you had the persistence of a Sudoku champion.

We focused on making as much information available with many pages crammed with text and links, trying to assure our congregation that they were well within the loop. Unfortunately, we viewed our communication as too much of a one-way act.

We dumped information.

The congregation received it.

End of communication.

In her book Less Clutter, Less Noise, communications pro and author Kem Meyer reminds her readers in chapter one that they are not in control. In fact, she says, “Good communication is not so much about sending the right message as it is releasing the right response” (17).

This is something I’ve been forced to consider as a book author, blogger, and now communications volunteer at a different church. We want our readers to take some kind of action or arrive at a certain understanding, and it’s vital to remember that something will happen after we communicate.

There may be a response, uneasiness, or confidence. The hard thing for leaders and communications staff to understand is it’s quite hard to control that response. Good communication requires carefully evaluating the goal for communication, the anticipated audience response, and then the means of communicating in light of the two.

While working at a museum/gallery a few years ago I began to feature top volunteers in our newsletter, however, that “human interest” section of the newsletter only made those not featured feel inadequate. We therefore changed the newsletter to feature new opportunities, celebrating group accomplishments, and giving special previews of upcoming shows—all of which were more effective in making volunteers feel appreciated and in the loop.

Meyer offers several examples in this chapter from large businesses such as Legos and Google that demonstrate how any company can lose sight of an audience and blunder into controlling errors. She encourages readers to seek outside perspectives when evaluating the possible outcome of certain pieces of communication.

Most simply, communication is about sharing information in order to arrive at specific results. In Less Clutter, Less Noise, Meyer does a masterful job in assembling simple, readable chapters that help communications professionals, administrators, and pastors take leaps forward.

Questions to consider:

  1. When can we become too controlling with our communication?
  2. How do we evaluate the effectiveness of our communication goals?
  3. Where can we find outside perspectives for our communication?

Less Clutter, Less Noise project –> 2) Is it always better to have more choices?

About the author

Ed Cyzewski

Ed Cyzewski (MDiv Biblical Theological Seminary) works as a freelance writer in Eastern Connecticut. He is the author of Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life, an introduction to contextual theology as well as the Coffeehouse Theology Bible Study Guide and a Coffeehouse Theology Discussion Guide.

Ed writes regularly for a number of magazines and web sites. He blogs on freelance writing at: and on theology at


  • Great illustrations. And great questions Ed. I know now that often by communications fall off two opposite ends – all sewed up with no room to respond or to open ended to even invite a response. Not that that is what I intend. In sermons I tend to be very controlling. In blogging I have moved to, don't tell anyone, seeming purposeless. I sure have some work to do. In creative writing lately I tend to do better. I think I need to examine why those three forms of communication have such different results. And yet I already know. My sermons are almost totally word focused. My blog is me focused. My creative writing is audience focused. I want to be more audience response focused. After all if I am not communicating in a way that brings an engaged response, I don't think I have been effective. So for outside perspectives one sometimes overlooked resource might be writing courses, magazines, etc.

    • Wayne, communicating in such a way that a response is encouraged can be challenging. I think most of us would feel we have our good days and our bad days. Regarding blogging, one thing that has helped me is to think about what really concerns me, and then writing something that addresses it. I think that could also help with sermons. When it comes to communication, a similar principle may work along the lines of, "What kinds of communication don't work for me?"

  • Hey Ed, thanks for taking the plunge and blogging about chapter 1. I think we become too controlling with our communication when we view communication primarily as a way to advance our agenda. Look carefully at your communications. Do you see things like… "We need more volunteers…" "We ask you to prayerfully consider giving…" "We have some great stuff for you to buy…"

    Every church, ministry, and business claims to "serve" people. If we really mean that, our communication should not be asking people to help us accomplish our goals but rather explaining how what we're doing could help them accomplish their goals and inviting them to join us if that's the case.

    • You've made a key point Paul. As a church we have certain things that we identify as those that God has called us to do as a community. Our communication should remind our congregations of this fact rather than just saying, "We need volunteers." The trick is to do so in a succinct manner!

  • 1. When can we become too controlling with our communication? It is true that our communications do often advance an agenda, our church is guilty of this. Sometimes it is a very fine line we walk when we do need volunteers, etc. Then we have to look at whether the things we are offering are something someone would want to serve in or get involved with. That is where I love what Ed said, "Good communication requires carefully evaluating the goal for communication, the anticipated audience response, and then the means of communicating in light of the two." It takes time and evaluation. We really need to work on this at our church. Mainly asking the question…"Why do people need to hear this or read this?" Need vs. Opportunity

    2. How do we evaluate the effectiveness of our communication goals? We are beginning to do more of this. Stats help, but seeing transformation is key.

    3. Where can we find outside perspectives for our communication? I look to my fellow communicators, but more importantly, to non-believers, what are they saying. Also, what do I hear in the "pews".

  • I'll throw out one more comment… for me the most challenging concept in the first chapter is "It's not what you say; it's what people hear." It's normal to operate under the false assumption everyone hears and sees things the same way I do. To take it a step further, it's hard enough to try to understand how a single person will perceive our message when we're communicating one on one, but now multiply that by 100 or 1000 or 1,000,000 recipients of varying ages, worldviews, experiences, etc. It's daunting tasks to effectively communicate an idea to lots of people when no two people will hear it the same way. You really have to understand the culture and commonalities of the community of people you're communicating with.

  • 2. How do we evaluate the effectiveness of our communication goals?

    Sometimes what we think we are saying is taken completely differently by those receiving the communication. Like what Kem said, it's not what you say; it's what people hear.

    One way to check to see if people get what the communication meant to communicate is to ask people in your friendship network who you know will give you an honest answer. This is one cheap way that will help when measuring how effective your communication is.

    3.Where can we find outside perspectives for our communication?

    Again, ask your network what they think. Don't debate or argue, just listen and say thank you!

    • Steve, I think that's a great suggestion to ask people who will give you an honest answer. I would add a little caveat to that to try to have the diversity of the people you ask match the diversity in your audience. For example, if you've got postcard going out to promote an event and you run it by a handful of people who are all on staff at your church, none of them is going to have the perspective of the average member of your church. Same thing if you run it by a group of people that are all of the same gender, age, ethnicity, etc.

      • Paul, totally agree, when I said networks I meant those within your personal networks who you think would be the recepient of the communication – not staff.

        I would also probably ask a few outside of the target audience to see how it resonated with them.

        Then of course, my wife is VERY quick to give me her opinion on what she see's. Many because she knows I did it 😉

        • I always try to ask a few people I trust who will give me honest feedback. Then I usually try to find a few random people who I don't usually ask.

      • I mistake I made is I asked only people of like mind it I communicated the message. That was helpful, but that majority of my listeners were not of like mind. I did not ask any of them what they heard. It was a grave mistake! It was the people not of like mind that often most need what God was trying to communicate through me. Instead, I just expected to put it out there and some magic result would happen. Kem's point – and these responses – have been so right on.

  • […] 1) The Myth: You Are In Control of Communication <– Less Clutter, Less Noise project Brian is currently serving as Communications Director for Christ Community Church in St. Charles, IL. A graduate of Messiah College, Brian has spent a good deal of his career in Philadelphia, Colorado Springs and most recently in the Chicago suburbs. Brian loves his wife, kids, Italian beef from Portillo's and his iPad…and yes, in that order. communications choices, Less Clutter Less Noise, options, simple Poll: How do you gauge the effectiveness of your communication? […]

  • I think Christians need to really take this chapter to heart not just with out communications within a church on a larger scale- when they are in the world. They get in the habit of using Christian-ese (words only Christian's know the definition/context of …i.e. fellowship) when trying to evangelize to non-believers, or even just in their daily lives. They are focusing too much on the message, and what they understand it as, and not how the person who they are evangelizing too is going to take it. If someone started spewing technical jargon at you from a field you know nothing about- you are going to be confused and probably not want to talk to that person again. It's vital to Christianity that Christians start taking a serious look at how their message is received and not just what they want to say about the gospel. I think it's important to run new-outreach materials and public communications by non-Christians and/or new Christians who have not been in the Christian bubble too long, they can give you a real objective look at how your message is received.

  • 1. We become too controlling with our communication when we don't look for a response, just try to, as you say, dump the information out there. With print publications it's harder to get communication back and forth, but with digital it should be much easier. Things like don't auto feed your church website info to facebook. Instead of sharing a verse, ask for members to share their favorite verses. This is a conversation we've been having at another site.

    2.Right now I'd say we don't evaluate our effectiveness very well, or at all. Somethings are hard to evaluate. For instance we spent several months running a radio spot for the church. Honestly I do not know a way to measure it's effectiveness. I guess maybe "how did you hear about us?" and make it one of the choices.

    3.Someone told me once to gauge the presence of your church in the community, stop at a gas station and ask where it is. We need outside perspectives such as members of the congregation, but also need to find those who don't know about the church, and figure how effective your communication is to them.

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