Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Exit, Voice and Loyalty….can you say church plant?

Written by: on October 22, 2016

At the heart of every church plant or some may say (split) there are elements from Albert O. Hirshman’s book Exit, Voice and Loyalty.  The information that is shared in this quick 126 page read is still true today and is translatable to the church.  The authors observation that “under any economic, social, or political system, individuals, business firms and organizations in general are subject to lapses from efficient, rational, law abiding, virtuous, or otherwise functional behavior.”   These lapses, if they could be prevented or reverted, would be identifiable and could restore order to any organization.  Slack is the word assigned to this process of going from great to good.   When slack occurs there are choices to be made.


The first is exit.  Exit is a viable choice, if there are other choices for the person to make.  Is there another location for the person to go?   Some people in the church would feel that leaving “their” church is never an option.  Others would feel like exiting quietly would be the way to go.  Some would exit and come back to see if anyone noticed.  This book was not necessary written with the non-profit (church) in mind but it truly resonated with some of what has been experienced.


The second choice would be voice.  The way of catching the “managements” attention can get really interesting in the church.  The “exit” from church comments on a weekly basis that are tongue in cheek but pointed to the pastor are where some comments or “voice” come from.   Some come in the form of a well thought out and attacking email.   Some of these e-mails are conveniently sent to multiple people in leadership as well as the pastor and some are sent to the whole congregation.  Interesting where voice comes into the church but is not in line with the guidelines of the Bible, specifically Matthew 18:15 (if another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense.  If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.) NLV   Are there ground rules for voice?


The example of the voice within the public school and then the private school really illustrated some of this concept for me of churches.  Is the church deteriorating?  Was the school deteriorating, while nothing was being done about it?  Management in any form, superintendent or pastor, is forced to look for answers.  What can be done to fix or help the situation that has been brought to light?  Is there a way to stop exit while listening to and working with the “voices” that have come to the surface?


There has to be a way to have this conversation but one of the things truly identified within this book is that there needs to be strategy or a way to have this conversation.  Is there a structure within the church to look at the “problem” and it not be a person?   Sometimes the problem is a person but can they be approached and the issues corrected like Matthew 18:15 suggests?


The third choice is loyalty.  Loyalty is defined as a feeling of attachment to an organization of which one is a member.   The presence of loyalty effectively increases the cost of exit.  This causes the members to stay with the faltering organization for a while.  They might raise their voice during this time.  Being loyal to an organization means that one believes “over a period of time, the right turns will more than balance out the wrong ones.”  Ignoring the voices for very long can cause loyalty to really be put to the test.


All of these business principles, in my opinion, can be found in the church.   Some church “plants” are incredibly healthy because it returns voices to the actual work of the kingdom and their loyalty has to be transferred back to Christ instead of a building.  Loyalty to a building and a cause are not the same as being committed to the commission of Christ.  Sometimes a church plant can truly change the voices and change the landscape of the spiritual pilgrimage for the good.  It is painful but it is for the good!!   Loyalty to Christ is the most important loyalty and changing a voice to reflect that instead of one that is bitter and judgmental is well worth the exit!

The authors conclusion is where I will conclude this thought, “Finally, in an awareness of the inborn tendencies toward instability of any optimal mix may be helpful in improving the design of institutions that need both exit and voice to be maintained in good health.”  So what does that mean?  I believe it means that those in leadership may have to at times embrace exit, even when there is a desire to hold on.   Leadership may have to at times embrace someone else voice.  Even when it may go against their wishes or their plans to help the whole organization grow.  Loyalty to the mission of the organization must somehow be a deciding point for the leader.  Health of the institution has to be in the mix of these three things: exit, voice and loyalty.


Albert O Hirschman, Exit, Voice and Loyalty:  Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States.  Cambridge, Massachusetts,  Harvard University Press, 1970.



About the Author


Kevin Norwood

My name is Kevin Norwood and I have been in youth ministry for the past 34 years. On February 14th, 1994, 27 years ago, we moved to Owasso OK and wow what a ride. My wife, Ann, is an RN and specializes in Clinical Documentation working from home. Maci is a my 21 year old daughter and she loves and shows horses. Her horse's name is Charlie. She is currently working with animals and loves to go on trail rides with her horse. London is my 10 year old son and he keeps me young. He absolutely loves life!! Golfing, baseball and Hawaii is his latest adventures. He skied for the first time in Colorado this year. I have started a coaching business for pastors at www.kevinnorwood.com and it is exciting the doors that God is opening. I earned my Doctorate in Leadership and Global Perspectives from George Fox on Feb 10, 2018.

7 responses to “Exit, Voice and Loyalty….can you say church plant?”

  1. Phil Goldsberry says:

    I concur with the analogy of the local church. Of interest is your thoughts on “voice”. What do you think would be viable “ground rules” for the local church in regards to “voice”?

    This one issue can help with the “exit” that takes place because people do not have enough loyalty to speak at the right time to the right person. Hirschman believes that people’s voice needs to be heard, but how can we coach people to do this correctly?


  2. That is really what intrigued me about this book. How do you set up a way for people to communicate that is appropriate but not always confrontational? Can it be constructive? Open door policy is usually used within the church for those who are friends of the pastor. What about those who don’t have loyalty towards anyone but themselves? That is what I am looking and asking myself is this something that can be taught within the “discipleship” language?


  3. Marc Andresen says:


    How have you processed exit, voice, and loyalty with your youth-worker volunteers? Any examples of how any of these three have played out in your ministry?

  4. Marc,

    I have student leaders and adult leaders who exit and some find another place and some chase the world. It is the worst. I have developed a culture of voice though. I constantly give opportunity for leaders to speak and be a part of the direction we are going. Loyalty is the true biproduct of having voice. I want my leaders to “own” the ministry with me. Shared ministry is the best but it takes the most risk.


  5. Hi Kevin. Has there been a time in you life where you knew you had to exit, but wanted to hold on and not leave?

    • I was in a church in a nice warm state where I loved living and we were having great success getting into the schools but I knew I had to exit. My voice was never going to be heard. I couldn’t stay loyal to the culture. So exit was the only choice. Hardest thing to do!! It cost me a lot.


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