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

Start a Cult!

Written by: on October 9, 2015

In his book Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States, Albert O. Hirschman puts words to a reality that we inherently know, but don’t always have a concise way to express. When people become dissatisfied with an organization, whether it be political, commercial, or something else, they express their dissatisfaction by either exit or voice.[1] In the case of a commercial institution, a customer will stop shopping at a particular store (exit) or voice his/her complaint to the management (voice).

This is a profound concept for churches. Churches are always trying to “close the back door” or “remove the revolving door”. In essence, churches recognize that people can and do leave a local church as easily as they come. In light of “exit” and “voice”, this makes perfect sense. In our churches today, exit is easy; After all, there are five more churches just down the road. As I see it, there are four possible approaches to stave the rate of exit.


  1. Return to a Pre-Protestant World

Boy, life sure was good in the Middle Ages. There was one church with all the power and influence (at least that is what my westernized version of world history tells me). Sure, there was the option of exit and voice, but exit meant excommunication and eternal fire, not a bad deterrent. Voice meant heresy and death. While returning to the Pre-Reformation Europe would be an intriguing experiment, it probably is not very feasible.


  1. Start a Cult

Who doesn’t enjoy a good cult? Hitching a ride on the Hale Bopp Comet or hanging out with John Travolta could be fun. As leader, you get to make your own rules and coerce others into supporting you. You also get to make it very difficult to exit and make people feel horrible for giving voice. Just remember to bring your own beverage to the potluck dinners, especially when going with a South American theme.


  1. Create a Space for Voice

In lieu of starting a cult or returning to the Middle Ages, a better approach is to create space in which a person is truly heard. Hirschman tells us, “…the decision whether to exit will often be taken in the light of prospects for the effective use of voice. If customers are sufficiently convinced that voice will be effective, then they may well postpone exit.[2] Many pastors and leaders live in fear of confrontation. As a result, many are unwilling to listen to someone who has a different point of view. This failure to allow voice compels many to exit the church. Listening and hearing the voice of others not only creates a better atmosphere of community, it can help everyone grow and work together for the mutual good.

A wise pastor will seek to put voice to exit. There is ALWAYS a reason for an exit. Rather than chalking it up to the fickleness of our post-modern world, wise leaders will seek to hear the voice of those who have already made an exit.

  1. Nurture Loyalty

“A member with a considerable attachment to a product or organization will often search for ways to make himself influential, especially when the organization moves in what he believes is the wrong direction; conversely, a member who wields (or thinks he wields) considerable power in an organization and is therefore convinced that he can get it ‘back on track’ is likely to develop a strong affection for the organization in which he is powerful.”[3]

Loyalty can be the determining factor when someone is considering whether to leave or whether to work through the issues. While there are many aspects of developing loyalty, I believe that within a healthy church, loyalty hinges on relationships. Deep personal relationships make it more likely that a person will talk through their concerns rather than just leaving. It is easy to leave an organization or church when no really cares about you. It is quite another thing to walk away from close friends who have walked beside you. Developing healthy relationships creates space for voice, which can significantly reduce exit.


[1] Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970), 4.

[2] Ibid., 37.

[3] Ibid., 77-78.

About the Author

Brian Yost

Brian is a husband and father of three. He works with Free Methodist World Missions and is currently serving in Latin America.

9 responses to “Start a Cult!”

  1. Nick Martineau says:

    Good words Brian….While a cult sounds like a lot of fun I think you really nailed it when you talked about relationships and loyalty. Many churches these days are so large you don’t even know if people are coming and going. For someones Voice to be heard we really need to keep working on making sure our churches foster genuine relationships. Thanks Brian.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Nick and Brian,

      I agree that churches really have failed to be relationship builders. We open our doors on Sunday, shake hands with people as they come and go, and then burry ourselves in work the rest of the week. We need to take time to really get to know one another and to live life with one another. Do you think churches may be more effective if they proactively seemed to serve the communities that directly surrounded them? It seems that church leaders should be out and about, getting to know those people who walk past the doors of the church throughout the week.

  2. Travis Biglow says:

    Great Brian,

    Some cults are scary though and not that fun. I liked what you said about voicing your dissatisfaction is not to easy to do with pastors and leaders. I know some instances where leaders encouraged people in their staff to voice their dissatisfaction just to preach against them over the pulpit or to demote them. So that is a touchy area. I wanted to talk about this more in my blog but you did a great job with it.!

  3. Jon Spellman says:

    Brian, I’ll join your cult! I bet the potluck dinners would be FABULOUS! Really good observations though… Your point about listening to the voices of those who have already exercised the “exit” option is insightful. Many times we discount their voices because they no longer matter, “they’re not with us anymore!”

  4. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Brain, You crack me up … “Boy, life sure was good in the Middle Ages.” I love the sarcasm. Your humor and scenarios actually made me think of how did Jesus handle exit, voice and loyalty. I think and interesting post could be written on Judas, Peter, and John. What do you think??? 🙂

    • Brian Yost says:

      I agree. It also makes me think of the rich young ruler whom Jesus listen to, shared with, invited to follow, and then allowed him to make his exit.
      P.S. Thanks for calling me Brain. Some days I really need the encouragement. : )

  5. Mary Pandiani says:

    I know your wife is the one writing the book for humorous acts that she’s done accidentally, but I think you might have a market for your own dry sarcastic humor. I’ll be thinking about always bringing my own beverage now 🙂

    I appreciate how you highlight the concept of loyalty. After moving a lot as a kid, it’s been hard for me to be a loyal person. I always had to leave old friends, make new friends, exit (sometimes involuntarily) youth groups/schools, to then be a part of new ones. While it has helped me develop the art of relationships, I have to confess to learning loyalty from my husband. He has a remarkable capacity to remain loyal, committed to those he’s invested in. As you indicate the value of relationships, it’s when there is loyalty that something lasts, what I would characterize as commitment to those around you.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Mary that’s interesting. I too moved a good bit (maybe not as much as some), moved from OR to FL at 12, then from FL to AL at 14 then to ATL at 18 where I have been for all my adult life. While this wasn’t a ton of moving, I lost my friends and as a result, don’t do well with deep, personal relationships. I have LOTS of buddies, acquaintances, but very few deep friendships and the ones I do count as deep, covenant friends live thousand of miles away from me geographically. Yet I think I have developed a more highly developed sense of loyalty than most…


  6. Dave Young says:


    Funny and thoughtful. Great post. I especially love where you wrapped it up on the importance of building healthy, deeper relationships in church. Those relationships will give an organic way to bring voice. Those relationships build a significant pause to people taking the exit option.


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