Organizing the immaterial : examining the communicative constitution of a congregationalist church
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This study investigates the relationship between faith, communication, and organization in a large Baptist church. A chief purpose of this study is to describe and interpret potential communicative dimensions and consequences of immateriality (e.g., faith-oriented influences) for organizations and their members. This investigation also interrogates organizational communication scholars’ theoretical understandings of how communication constitutes complex organizations (McPhee & Zaug, 2000; Taylor & Van Every, 2000; see also Putnam & Nicotera, 2009). Toward this end, I conducted an extended case study of a large Baptist church. This research process was guided by descriptive, interpretive, and evaluative questions regarding (a) the nature and interplay of various discourses in the organization, (b) member interpretations and communicative consequences of these discourses, and (c) the implications for a communicative ontology of organizational constitution. Data collection consisted of formal meeting observations, semi-structured interviews, and examination of multiple organizational documents that presumably inform the church’s organizational processes. In total, I observed 26 formal meetings (52 hours of observation), conducted 40 interviews with pastors, support staff, and lay leaders, and examined seven documents generated by the church and related institutional bodies. Two forms of analysis were employed to strengthen the case studying findings, an ethnographic discursive analysis of the meeting interactions and a narrative analysis derived largely from the interview data. The ethnographic discourse analysis examines three communication codes that governed the organization’s meeting interactions. I refer to these codes as keep the faith, secular thinking, and business as usual and explore potential patterns and consequences of their collective use. This analysis was supplemented by an additional narrative analysis of interview data that highlighted four narratives representing the varied ways that participants shape and are shaped by the organization. The congregationalist and spiritual authority narratives are more widely espoused and endorsed in organizational literature while the rubber stamp and separation narratives reveal a more hesitant or regretful confession of church organizing processes. I synthesize these findings by discussing the theoretical and practical implications of immaterial influences on organizational constitution, particularly in non-profit or third sector contexts.