Seven dimensions of cross cultural communication

I borrowed a copy of David Hasselgrave's "Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally" from Morling College this evening to go over his "seven dimensions" of cross cultural communication again.

It is one thing to identify gaps between church cultures and host cultures, its another thing entirely to analyze precisely where those gaps are largest. I find Hasselgrave's schema is a useful tool in that respect. So without further adieu the seven dimensions are:

  1. Worldviews – ways of perceiving the world
  2. Cognitive processes – ways of thinking
  3. Linguistic forms – ways of expressing ideas
  4. Behavioral patterns – ways of acting
  5. Social structures – ways of interacting
  6. Media influence -  ways of channeling the message
  7. Motivational resources – ways of deciding

Now, for a few comments.

  • Western cultural homogeneity is dead. And ethnicity is not the only fault line which cultural gaps can arise along. News flash – it can arise between whites too!
  • Worldview is one of the fault lines that cultural gaps can arise along. Westerners who have internalized multiculturalism, who have been influenced by eastern and global perspectives, through travel of whatever, may come to perceive the world significantly differently from their more parochial kin.
  • Cognitive processes can clearly be effected by educational level.
  • Linguistic processes are obviously important where conversation partners speak different languages. But consider, how might communication be impacted where English is a second language and not the heart language for one of the partners in a conversation. And consider differences in language between subcultures. This matters more than we often realize.
  • Would you channel messages differently to bloggers than to the disconnected? Can churches afford to ignore the preferred message dissemination styles of youth if they wish to communicate effectively with youth?
  • If you mismatch the message with people's ways of deciding you are not going to convince anyone real quick are you? What one person finds authoritative and compelling may not be as well received by someone in a different subculture.

These are just a few things to get people thinking. Can you think of more? How might this effect the way we mentor new Christians and interested enquirers?

12 thoughts on “Seven dimensions of cross cultural communication

  1. I wonder if the said David understands that his “christian” world-view is also bound up in all sorts of essentially “provincial” presumptions about what is True, Real & possible?
    If not he is just engaging in the two millenia long process of “christian”/western cultural imperialism and thereby helping to destroy the “sacred canopies” and hence the cultural centre and integrity of his victims and thereby enticing them into the one-dimensional emptiness/hollowness of our “normal” dreadful western “sanity”. And probably into the dreadfulness described by Mike Davis in his book The Planet of Slums
    In my opinion much (not all) of the misery in “third” world countries has its origins in the ravages of Western imperialism—which is still going as strong as ever and is now entering its final deadly phase. “Christian” missionaries (especially of the kind that Hasselgrave respresents) despite their presumed “good intentions”, are instrumental in this process of cultural destruction/disintegration.
    Western consumer mono-“culture” rules OK!
    All other cultural possibilities have either been, or are being, rapidly destroyed—or ground to rubble/dust.
    See for instance:


  2. Well, Matt, I have been negligent and you have been busy! This will take some processing…Brad will be interested in this one, too!


  3. Well, I think the old minister’s trick still works: understand and speak to where the person is spiritually is themselves. Let them speak, acknowledge and listen. Walk with them. When the hearts meet, each one becomes open to hear the other. Christ, without the word ‘Christ’ getting in the way.


  4. Can you think of more? How might this effect the way we mentor new Christians and interested enquirers?
    Good questions Matt- for my part I think we must start seeing new Christians as members of their own culture rather than trying to draw them into a Christian bubble with its own rareified culture…
    This will of course engage us in seeking out what the gospel says and how it is to be interpreted in this context- cultural hermenutics I guess!


  5. I like Sun Warrior’s take…
    Am I right that this book was published in 1991? I suspect that that’s too early to be addressing in depth the issues raised for cross-cultural communication by evolutionary psychology.
    Steven Pinker’s ‘The Blank Slate'(2002)summarises the subject beautifully, and has hugely pertinent things to say on a scientific level about every one of Hasselgrave’s dimensions. For instance, in an appendix he includes Donald E. Brown’s List of Human Universals (first published in 1991).
    I’d be very keen to hear if anybody is taking on board the insights of evolutionary psychology in developing their missiology (I’m giving it a shot, but I’m rather leftfield, I suspect, for many tastes!).


  6. Greetings Matt:
    I found your blog through Kay at Songs of Unforgetting.
    This post on cross-cultural communication is very useful. We are having a bit of a debate about the “internal culture” of Gnosticism, and specifically Gnostic Christianity (in my case, at least.) None the less, the issues raised here give some good meat to chew on.
    Thanks for these thoughts. I will mention them to the others.


  7. John, I think you had better read David’s book as you seem to have completely missed the point. Hasselgrave is an opponent of imperialistic methods. He advocates listening before barging in. I suggests you take a leaf out of his book. It may get you a better hearing.


  8. Sally, are you familiar with the E-scale of cultural distance?
    Before leaving his disciples, Jesus said to them, “…and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all of Judea and Sumeria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:9). Missiologists have found this to be a useful way of classifying cultural distance.
    E1 = evangelism within the same culture as the sending church, as with Peter within Jerusalem.
    E2 = evangelism within a similar, but different culture, from the sending church, as with Jesus amongst the Samaritans.
    E3 = evangelism within a very different culture from the sending church, as with Paul amongst the Athenians.
    Now, consider your church and the subculture you move within and rank the distance between the two for each of Hasselgrave’s “seven dimension”. Knowing a bit about your situation I suspect you will find that media influence may well be only E1 distance and worldview may sit at an E2 distance. But for a less embedded church worldview may sit at an E3 distance. Can have very interesting implications for hermenutics and a whole bunch of stuff.


  9. Matt, No I have to say that is not something I am familiar with- is it a s simple as you have said or can I read more somewhere…I’d be interested


  10. The e scale was coined by veteran missiologist Ralph Winter. There is a little more to it but I think the concept is most powerful when it’s left this simple. For more though see here and here
    I have of course complicated it a little by integrating it with Hasselgrave’s model but I trust people here can handle it and follow what I am up to.
    When explaining what I do to regular church goers though, I simply define myself as a E2 missionary and use the example of the Samaritan mission. I have found it has reasonable explanatory power when used in that way.


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