This picture below probably looks familiar to you. I first came across a more simplified version of it in high school when a teacher scribbled on the board two stick figures and a few arrows. This is the Shannon-Weaver model of communication from 1948. In this blog post I want to introduce the idea that this simple representation of communication needs to be considered whenever anyone inside the church tries to communicate anything outside the church.
In other words, whenever the church attempts mission, evangelism, being missional, being incarnational, everything we do: the process of communication needs to be considered. I don’t just mean spoken or written, but actions and everything else we do.
With the communication of the church in mind, there’s a lot that can be said about the Shannon-Weaver model. Right now I will focus on the model itself and in future posts I will refer back to this as I apply it to the past, present, and future church.
Definitions of communication
There are many definitions for “communication” and according to Griffin 1 there is not yet one final and definitive way to define it. He does offer a helpful working definition:
“Communication is the relational process of creating and interpreting messages that elicit a response” 2
Tubbs 3 suggests:
“Communication is a subject so frequently discussed that the term itself has become too meaningful – that is, it has too many different meanings for people” 4
Tubbs is probably not thinking of the church world when he mentions how frequently communication is discussed! I like the Shannon-Weaver model of communication because it keeps clear and simple what communication is.
Devito 5 says communication occurs when one or more people send and receive messages that may be distorted by noise, occur within certain contexts, have some kind of effect, and provide an opportunity for feedback.
The diagram explained
The diagram above illustrates basic communication theory. It shows the communication process that occurs when two people talk to each other.
The blue person on the left, the “sender” speaks, so in this case it is a verbal message sent to the red person on the right – the “receiver”.
The message is encoded and goes through a channel to be decoded by the red person.
Several things are going on:
The message travels through or along the channel which is subject to noise, in other words interference or distortion that could alter the message. In verbal communication this noise might actually be physical noise like a lawn mower or screaming baby, and this is called physiological noise, and the result of this might be what is called psychological effects, for example: an inability to concentrate on what is being communicated. Noise could be much more subtle than that, for example, when a person uses words in such a way that you do not understand the meaning, and this is called semantic noise.
After the message is sent there is the potential for feedback from the receiver which goes through the same process back to the original sender. In a verbal conversation this feedback might be verbal response, or it could be eye contact, facial expressions, or other body language or actions.
The result of any communication is revealed through the feedback from the “receiver” (the red person on the right of the diagram). It is not until feedback occurs that the “sender” can decide if the communication was successful or not.
Verbal communication is only one form of communication: many things communicate such as ethnicity, distance, history, relationship status, all these things are received and interpreted, perceptions are created, and responses are formed, with the potential for feedback.
Who are the communicators?
On the “sender” side of the communication process, in the diagram above it is a person. The sender could also be an organisation, such as clubs, sports groups, political parties, and while the “receiver” could be an individual person, it could also more broadly be seen as a group of people, or large groupings of people, cultural groupings – such as Cantabrians, or even New Zealand society.
Church as “sender”
In my doctoral research I have considered the church in New Zealand as the “sender”, and people outside of the church as the “receiver.” I will unpack this more in later blog posts as I add to the definition of “mission”.
In this post I have explained the basic idea around the Shannon-Weaver model of communication. This is because I think it is a very good tool to use when examining the communication of the church.
In this post I have tried to set the scene in terms of how we might think about the communication of the church.
I’d be interested to hear any comments you have in terms of thinking of your local church as being represented as the blue person on the left of the diagram:
Have you thought about church in this way before?
Image: The Shannon-Weaver model of communication, Mike Crudge.
- Griffin, E. (2012). A first look at communication theory. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. ↩
- (Griffin, 2012, p. 6). ↩
- Tubbs, S. (2010). Human communication: principles and contexts. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. ↩
- (Tubbs, 2010, p. 8). ↩
- Devito, J. A. (2009). Human communication: the basic course. New York, NY: Pearson Education, p. 12. ↩