High Context Evangelism


I was talking to my Cultural Anthropology class about high context versus low context communication. A nice source of information about High Context versus Low Context cultures is “The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business” by Erin Meyer.

In terms of communication, high context can apply not only to certain countries and cultures, but also to sub-cultures and micro-cultures.

The example of this I used was:

“ECO the 4A16 ASAP”

Most people would not understand this statement. But one can slowly expand it from a bit of high context communication to low context.bridges-not-walls

  1. ECO the 4A16 ASAP
  2. ECO the 4A16 as soon as possible.
  3. (Create an) Engineering Change Order (for) the 4A16 as soon as possible.
  4. Create the paperwork of an Engineering Change Order for the 4A16 Printed Wiring Board as soon as possible.
  5. Create the paperwork of an Engineering Change Order to guide the Design Department to modify the blueprint for the A16 Printed Wiring Board of the Antenna Control Unit (Unit 4) of the BPS-16(V) Submarine Radar System, as soon as possible.

The original (level 1) statement only makes sense to a fairly small group of people (myself included from my days as a mechanical design engineer in a certain department in a certain corporation). By the time we get to level 5, many would understand what is wanted… people who are not part of a very small subculture.

The value of high context communication is two-fold. First, it saves time. Communication is easier for members within the same high-context sub-culture. Second, it separates US from THEN. In missions, however, one must communicate across cultures. And, using language to divide (create a linguistic wall) is problematic when one is trying to use communication to serve as a bridge across cultural barriers.

Frankly, much of our conversation as Christians is High Context.

Consider the statement:

Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior

This statement is as meaningless as “ECO the 4A16 ASAP” to someone with no acculturation into (Evangelical especially) church sub-culture. Half of the words need to explained… as well as the broader context of the overall message.

And yet, the biggest problem is not those who have no acculturation into the church sub-culture.

Zero cultural understanding leads to No Communication

Limited cultural understanding leads to Miscommunication

While we want non-Christians to understand and respond to a call to allegiance to Jesus Christ. However, miscommunication is more dangerous than no communication, because miscommunication leads to misunderstanding.

Overall, the dangerous with the use of Christian jargon is two-fold… failure to communicate effectively, or the development of misunderstandings.

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