Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

Document Type



The primary purpose of this study was to test the assertion that Sensemaking Theory is an appropriate lens to understand church crisis by highlighting the role of communication as a central aspect of the sensemaking process. In addition, through the application of Sensemaking Theory, the secondary goal was to assist congregations as they try to avoid the negative consequences of church splits. The analysis utilized in the current study was specifically selected to develop a history of participant interpretation within a church in order to determine how members made sense of the crisis. To that end, this study followed the procedures of Miles and Huberman (1984) as modified by Dutton and Dukerich, which were set firmly within the primary Sensemaking Theory components of enaction, selection and retention (Weick, 1995). The 11 themes that were drawn from theory were the basis for research questions as well as for the four-step method of collecting, describing and analyzing the data. The extent to which the themes were applicable was the determining factor or test to determine whether Sensemaking Theory is an appropriate theoretical lens for understanding crisis within a church context. The primary research objective was accomplished by demonstrating how communication within the Unity Baptist Church (UBC) congregation spoke the crisis into existence (Weick, 1995). Rich description of conversations in which UBC members made sense of the crisis exemplified how communication is the essence of sense because sensemaking is an “issue of language, talk and communication” (Weick, Sutcliffe, & Obstfeld, 2005, p. 409). The research questions underlined the communicative properties of sensemaking because concepts such as enaction, commitments, capacity, expectation, emotion, selection, retention, identity and sensegiving were all formulated, mediated and confirmed through communication. Throughout the crisis-cycle, communication within the UBC membership exhibited a clear procession through the pre-crisis, crisis and post-crisis stages. Therefore, results indicated that Sensemaking Theory is an appropriate lens from which to study church crisis. Finally, the secondary objective was approximated because the study provided a context for prevention discussion. Both organizational and church leadership were offered recommendations concerning the potential avoidance or mediation of crisis.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Pecchioni, Loretta



Included in

Communication Commons