School of Communication and the Arts


Doctor of Philosophy in Communication (PhD)


Shannon Leinen


Discipleship, Multiplication, Culture, Behavior Change, Actor-Network Theory, Social Cognitive Theory


Communication | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


The purpose of this ethnographically informed, comparative embedded case study was to understand the lack of disciple-making movements for congregations at three evangelical churches representing the East Coast, Midwest, and West Coast of the United States. The theories guiding this study were Latour’s actor–network theory and Bandura’s social cognitive theory as they provide a theoretical framework to understand the influence of culture on the creation of meaning followed by the influence of meaning on individual behavior. The primary research question that guided this study asked, How can a church organization communicate to increase disciple multiplication? To answer this question, a qualitative approach was used with data collected through site visits to the three participating sites, a digital media review, an artifact review, and 75 personal interviews, with 25 interviews from each of the three participating churches. Data from each method were descriptively coded, inferentially coded, and then analyzed for patterns and themes. Overall results found substantial cultural influence on the organizational culture of all three churches, with a common theme of commercialism throughout all three sites. Despite unique organizational visions and rhetoric, nearly identical methodological approaches to core functions of the organizations existed between the three sites. The methodological approaches to disciple -making at all three sites failed to engage elements of social cognitive theory that are proven to influence individual behavior change. The primary recommendation from this study was to ontologically transform the organization’s methodological approach to disciple making to focus most of the organizational communication through small, intimate community with a narrow message focused on mission, predicated with a tangential model of expected behavior first provided by organizational leadership.