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The Illusion of Communication
By: Amanda Chitwood Washington

"The problem with communication . . . is the illusion that it has been accomplished."
--George Bernard Shaw

The brilliance of this quote speaks volumes about the perception of communication. No matter how often you say something or try to convey a message, the information will never get through to an audience who is not listening. The answer is applying tiered redundancy to your communication plan. It blends several methods of communication together, targeting your audience from different angles. It will lead to successful, effective communication, which is the driver of a flourishing organization.  With it, a church will grow in every aspect, producing a fruitful, educated, and knowledgeable congregation.
Accomplished communication is much like a puzzle; individual pieces fit together perfectly as long as you plan with the big picture in mind. It is important when communicating with your congregation that you think about how the individual messages contribute to the overall mission of the church (the big picture). 
Take a moment to think back over the last six months. Did the messages you sent contribute to your church's mission? Was your audience listening, and did they act on the messages? Did their actions meet your expectations? Was communication accomplished or just perceived?

Breaking Through the Clutter
Daily, we are bombarded with a mass of messages. So, yours must stand out from the rest to fully serve their purposes. On average, we are exposed to thousands of messages per day: personal, professional, advertising, etc. Seems like a lot, right?  It is. Our brains have a great deal to sift through to find the important information, so you need to make sure yours is remembered. 
Studies show that it takes a person seeing (or hearing) a message three times to act on it. Our brains spend so much time blocking out messages that it is hard for important messages to get through. With a tiered redundant approach, you can be certain that you get your audience's attention and that they listen. 
Tiered redundancy offers a catch-all for communication. It helps you make sure that messages are received and heard. Preachers use this method to ensure their sermons sink in with the congregation.  In addition to listening to the sermon, the congregation is asked to follow along by reading passages in their Bibles. Going a step further, presentations are many times implemented to help the congregation visualize what the preacher is saying. This is a beautiful representation of tiered redundancy. Sermons are some of the most valuable messages we receive; it is imperative they get through the clutter.

Plan to Communicate Effectively
Applying tiered redundancy to church communication is simple as long as you plan for it. Plans work much better when they are visualized. To fully see how messages relate to each other and to the big picture, they need to be seen individually. Take some time to map out your plan. Whiteboards work wonderfully for this. It will not only help you communicate better initially but also help you in retrospect in finding out what works and what does not. 
Identify the four key factors of your message and then choose the right tools to communicate the message; everything else will fall into place, just like a puzzle that comes together. The key factors are:

* Objective: What do you want to accomplish?
* Content: What and how much do you want to say?     
* Audience: Who is your intended recipient? 
* Timeline: How quickly does the message need to be received? 

Choosing the Right Tools
Communication is always changing, always evolving. The benefit is that we have a multitude of communication tools accessible. This makes tiered redundancy even easier. Make a list of all communication tools available to you. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Letters are perfect for some things, but there is a definite delay in receipt. It's called "snail mail" for a reason, and the rising cost can break a bank.
E-mail is great for personal communication, as long as there is no impending timeline. Spam filters are so stringent that many times they block out messages that are not spam, and even if it is not blocked, the message may be delayed for hours, if not days.  Plus, you may be effectively eliminating part of your congregation, because some may not have e-mail or check it regularly. As of June 2008, only 72.5% of the U.S. population used the Internet, reported Neilson-Online. 
Text messaging can be useful for niches, like youth groups. The major drawback, though, is that text messages cost both the sender and the receiver anywhere from 10 to 20 cents per message, and there is no assurance that the message was ever received.
With voice broadcasting, you can record a single message and send it to thousands in seconds through a phone call. Part of the attraction to this method is the personality of the message through tone and inflection. The receiver actually hears your voice, and that furthers the bond with your congregation.  The other advantage is the price. One call usually costs about 85% less than the price of a stamp.
Additionally, voice broadcasting offers message tracking. You are able to find out how many calls sent out were successful (live-answer or answering machine) and how many were unsuccessful or did not go through. This level of accountability in communication is wonderful, especially when reviewing your communication efforts in retrospect. Plus, people tend to be more familiar with telephones than any other communication tool. In fact, as of March 2008, 95.2% of U.S. households had telephone service (this does not include cell phones), according to the Federal Communications Commission. This figure proves this tool as an asset to a communication plan with tiered redundancy.
There are many companies that provide voice broadcasting service. However, there are some important questions to ask when choosing the one right for your church. 

* Does the company support your church's mission and can therefore be trusted with your membership list?
* Does the company have considerable experience assisting other churches?
* Do you have to pay extra for customer service, and when you call, will you get a live person?
* Is their pricing simple and clear, or will you end up paying for calls you never even use?

Choosing the right tools and bringing them together appropriately is the key to achieving the desired result and meeting your objective. Using them in a tiered approach allows for true redundancy. 

The beauty of ever-changing technology is that it provides a wonderful opportunity to implement tiered redundancy in our communication efforts.  It allows us to blend a letter with a voice-recorded phone message and an e-mail to get maximum results. It gives us the resources to combine many tools of communication to break through the clutter, have our messages truly heard, and thus achieve the desired results. With that, communication is accomplished.

Amanda Chitwood Washington is the marketing manager of CallingPost Communications, Inc., which was designed by a church leader for churches and related uses in 1995. CallingPost remains a premier provider of cost-effective, trustworthy voice broadcasting with premium customer service to over 10,000 churches nationwide, www.CallingPost.com.

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