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

The Customer is Always Right

Written by: on October 20, 2016

Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States by Albert O. Hirschman is an academic approach to the movement of people with given systems. Hirschman begins the book with his basic belief: “Under any economic, social, or political sysetem, individuals, business firms, and organizations in general are subject to lapses from efficient, rarity all, law-abiding, virtuous, or otherwise functional behavior.” (Hirschman, 1) These “lapses” result in two basic responses: “Exit” or “Voice”. In “exit” the customer or follower departs it patronage of the business or person. In “voice” the customer or follower voices their dissent and feelings to business or person. Hirschman offers one other solution, Loyalty, which is not without negative feelings or dissatisfaction, but results in the retaining of customer or follower. The authors’ ultimate goal is to explain the migration or movement of individuals away from a person or idea.
I found this book academic in its way of communicating its ideals but simple in its nature and concept. I found that although Hirschman relegated exit more to economics and voice more to politics, both (exit and voice) are prominent in church life. This prominence creates a tension for the leadership to manage. The management of this tension results in success and growth of the church or it’s stalemate of mission or ultimate demise. There is never a time where parishioners are completely silent or still, there is always opinions voice and people moving in or out the church. In fact, the larger the church grows the more voice and exit a pastor encounter. Although the ripple effect of parishioner change or movement becomes dramatically less as the church grows.

The key to Hirschman’s dilemma is strikingly similar to that of pastor: elasticity. The more leadership can stretch with the absorbing of change and parishioners can stretch with adaption that change brings, the less voice or exit occurs. The less the elasticity occurs, the more voice or exit occurs. Regardless there is an inevitable tension to be managed by the elasticity required. This elasticity primarily rests on the leader, is the very nature and expectation of pastor as leader.

As for loyalty, this is becoming an increasingly rare characteristic of parishioners. People may be loyal to God, but are not so loyal to his word, worship, or his body. Due to experiences resulting in voice and exit, loyalty is extremely rare if alive at all. The reality is that most do not connect God with his word, worship experience or bride. This lack of connection creates a void of loyalty that is beyond rational thought or even concern. However, for the pastor there is a grave concern over lack of loyalty to God that is evident in its disconnect to his word, worship, or body. This resulting tension is bound to break because if a person is not loyal to following God’s word, worship, or in community with his bride eventually he is not be loyal to God himself. This lack of loyalty will result in apostasy of the believer. Although this is not the not always the fault of the pastor, it is a real felt tension and reality to be faced by the pastor.

Ultimately it feels as the “customer is always right”. The truth is that this axiom may be true in economics and politics, but I don’t find much precedent in the Church. However, the ideals of voice, exit, and loyalty are very real. The best way to meet these demands and meet these tensions, is not by relegating the power to “customer” (parishioner), but rather to embrace the tension and manage it by leading. This leadership requires the pastor to listen to the voice, but only change based on Biblical principles and agreed church cultural values. It requires the pastor understand why someone is exiting, but to be like Jesus and not “chase” after them. Lastly, do not expect or demand loyalty, but rather focus on leading people closer to Jesus and not on consumeristic goals or mindsets.

About the Author

Aaron Cole

10 responses to “The Customer is Always Right”

  1. Hi Aaron. I like your ending of leading people closer to Jesus! Yes! That is what we are all about. You state earlier that the elasticity issue rests on the pastor. Do you think our parishioners should bear any weight of being stretched as well?

    • Aaron Cole says:

      Yes, I think the parishioners carry a weight to be elastic, but I do think it begins with the Pastor. The Pastor will lead by example and show what it means to give first. Then the congregation will follow suit, if not then there’s an entirely new subject.

  2. Marc Andresen says:

    Aaron C

    You wrote, “I found that although Hirschman relegated exit more to economics and voice more to politics, both (exit and voice) are prominent in church life. This prominence creates a tension for the leadership to manage.” This is a very accurate statement.

    What does managing this reality do to you internally? How do you cope and manage?

    What does pastoral elasticity look like?

    • Aaron Cole says:


      I find that I must be spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically fit to lead in the local church. As you know, it is a full contact sport. In essence, I must lead me first. I cope and manage through a great staff (delagate and empower), healthy board (communication and transparency), and church that is focused on great commission. Pastoral elasticity begans with me stretching first, then inviting others to join. You cannot give what you don’t have or lead where you have not been.

  3. Phil Goldsberry says:


    He’s up, the pitch and he……..knocks it out of the park! Great post on church life and the role of a pastor.

    A couple of questions that arise from your post and your experience:
    1. Why do you think organizational loyalty is waining especially in churches?
    2. How have you been able to lead with confidence and strength and “contain” the voice of the negative? Your dissertation is right in line with this book.


    • Aaron Cole says:

      1. Consumer mentality is now firmly “IN” the church
      2. When it comes to containing the negative: respond properly to critics (don’t respond, just take thread of truth and apply and move ahead); own your faults and failures; staff your weakness and play to your strengths; difuse the situation as best you can to reduce the casualty count in times of conflict

  4. Claire Appiah says:

    Thanks for your insights on church dynamics with respect to exit, voice, and loyalty. You stated, “People may be loyal to God, but are not so loyal to his word, worship, or his body. This lack of connection creates a void of loyalty that is beyond rational thought or even concern.” What is your initial reaction to this reality? Upon observing it, are you ever able to intercede on their behalf in any way to prevent them from maintaining the trajectory of the slippery slope that results in apostasy?

  5. Aaron Cole says:


    I think it is scary how “disconnected” people are and how this creates a huge problem in the future. I choose to light a candle rather than curse the darkness, because I think it is more helpful. As for an apostate individual, I just think all you can do is lovingly share truth when opportunity is given and give grace when it is least expected. Ultimately God is good and is in control.

  6. Aaron,

    This is right up your dissertation!! Managing the tension is exactly what he was writing about in 1970… What do you do to get people to bring a voice instead of choosing to exit? How do you manage this issue?


Leave a Reply