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

Voice by Exit

Written by: on October 6, 2015

In his book, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to decline in firms, organizations, and states, Albert Hirschman writes of a simple concept … in complicated fashion. Hirschman’s ultimate point is that when customers are dissatisfied with the goods, services, or possible climate and culture of an organization, they have two basic responses:

  1. Customers can stop buying, employing, and participating in the organization and thus exit.
  2. Customers can speak-up about their dissatisfaction and raise concern for necessary or desired change and consequently give voice to their concerns.[1]

While initially intriguing due to the true and simple nature of the forces of exit and voice interacting in many experiences in a capitalistic, mixed economy, much of Hirschman’s diagnostics and observations are overly complicated for the basic concepts being discussed.

My reaction to this text could be personal, however, as I feel church health and multiplication tends to be a dynamic arena for the forces of exit, voice, and loyalty and Hirschman’s breakdown of economic scenarios paled in comparison. Hirschman did try to apply his concept to other arenas as well, but other than his chapter on the ideology of America where he states, “The United States owes its very existence and growth to millions of decisions favoring exit over voice.”[2] Hirschman’s tendency was to overcomplicate the basic issues.

In church health and multiplication I see three main scenarios as that center on the tensions of exit, voice, and loyalty. First, existing churches that engage in a process of refocusing, tend to be environments of high voice. Secondly, church plants tend to be environments of high exit. Finally, churches that multiply tend to find the best balance of creating an equalized voice and exit environment.

The refocusing of existing churches takes place because change needs to happen and the desire to keep customers engaged is prioritized. The need for change is heard as members express their loyalty by being committed to stay with the ship even if it is going to go down. But the acknowledgement of that voice of change desired is expressed by a church being willing to engage in a refocusing program. Many times this process initially works, avoiding an exit of key members, but usually doesn’t create the necessary change to see long-term results.

The reality of most church planting stories is that they are high exit, low voice environments.  Most plants come as a result of an exit from an existing church or church background that wants to “be the change it desires to see.” While plants usually start with such a conception they usually tend to keep that culture as a fresh vision and mission are laid out and a new set of values are aspired to be attained. The dynamic of participation leans heavily into the buy-in of the new vision, mission and values and limited time, space, and energy are given for opposing voice.

Lastly, purposely, multiplying churches create a ideal balance between exit and voice allowing for optimum loyalty. This is best accomplished be creating an incremental place for voice in the mothering or sending church that builds and creates an ownership to the vision, mission, and values. At the same time, while creating a space for more buy-in, space for possible dissenting voices is created for an exit to be sent out for the next site, city, or community for a new work to be created.

So while Hirschman’s prevailing concept is relevant to many firms, organizations, and institutions today, I believe there could be a better way of writing such a text that would be more applicable and a better tool for many organizations.  Therefore, this being my voice, I wish the exit!

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

[2] Ibid., Hirschman, 106.

About the Author

Phillip Struckmeyer

9 responses to “Voice by Exit”

  1. Jon Spellman says:

    Phil, “The reality of most church planting stories is that they are high exit, low voice environments. Most plants come as a result of an exit from an existing church or church background that wants to “be the change it desires to see.”

    I wonder why the “high exit, low voice” thing happens in plants at such a high rate? I have a couple of thoughts on this but there may be more factors at work. First, the tendency of many people who join up with church planting core groups are those that have reached the point of exit already in terms of their current community of faith. It could be said that many of the people involved with church plants are “serial exiters.” So they stand with one foot out the door from day one. That may be an over-simplification but my experience with church plants supports this assertion. They tend to have a sense of temporariness. I offer this observation without commentary. In this venue, I’m not declaring this to be “good” or “bad.” It just is what it is… It’s just really important for the lead planter to be aware of this tendency when he/she is creating strategic plans, budgets, etc. You have to know what you got!

    A second observation is that when a planter is forging new works in new community, he/she desperately needs people who will use their voices! The need for HONEST, loving and caring voices in the mix can’t be overstated yet that is oftentimes the very thing that is missing from the equation! Again, planters tend to gather serial exiters and serial exiters tend to just leave instead of talking about important things.

    What do you think about this?

  2. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Good thoughts Jon, I would say similarly I can’t conclude that this is a good or bad things, although I lean towards good. There are definitely bad reasons to exit which makes for bad seeds for new works. But if the reasons are good and think that is were the best new works come from. I do think understanding the good, the bad, and the ugly in “exiters” could be key in seeing more people “sent” or who will “go” as the gospel spreads and the church multiplies. Again, good thinking.

  3. Nick Martineau says:

    Phil, Interesting post. Really intriguing to think of this through the eyes of church planting. I really think you are on to an important distinction in regards to exit. The church I’m currently at was planted almost 28 years ago. The 10 founding families were very clearly sent from a mother church and not existing because of dissatisfaction. They made one of their core values the desire to not grow from transfer growth but from conversion growth. I would think transfer growth comes with many unsatisfied people and makes listening to their voice important, but tricky. It’s really interesting to think how one organizations failed ability to listen to voice impacts another.

  4. Travis Biglow says:

    Hey Phil, truly voice by exist is loud and observed. I planted my church so i understand how exist is more prevalent in this environment than existing churches. But I think that faithfulness requires us to stick a lot of things out and especially in a church plant. When you plant a church you are pioneer and that is not a normal thing for every pastor or leader. But leaving is not always the best way to communicate. There are always times I wish I did not have to say something but there is something in me that says if you don’t say something you are not helping and you are apart of the problem!

    • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

      Travis, I wonder if the ideal planting plan and why it can be so effective and why it is so important in the Church is because it intentionally creates the exit option and uses it for God. Exiting is bad if a churches goal is to keep everyone but if a church has a true sending mentality I think a church could be responsive to new ways, ideas, and methods of keeping the Gospel spreading and disciples making disciples who can make disciples.

  5. Mary Pandiani says:

    Appreciate the overlay of your three arenas – refocus, church plant, multiply church. I too agree that I got frustrated with Hirschman’s complication of what I thought was a “duh, doesn’t everybody know this?” So having your engagement with the material/framework (using your “/”) gave me something into which to sink my teeth. Recognizing you’ve had much more experience in looking at a variety of churches than me, I would concur with you that health comes in a church multiplication model for voice to occur. In fact, I’d like to redefine his “voice” word with “agency” – having the ability to speak out for the good/wellbeing of a society. In a healthy multiplication, I think there is lots of room for agency.

    • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

      Mary, Love the thought of “agency.” I agree that is a better word and I hope healthy multiplication is a key “space” for the Church. Great connection!

  6. Dave Young says:

    Philip, thanks for your post. While I’m somewhat familiar with churches that are focused on ‘redevelopment’ or what you identified as refocusing – I’m really not that familiar with church plants or multiplying churches. I like how you identified refocusing churches as ‘high voice’ and from my experience I’d agree with that. But loyalty also plays a big role in refocusing a church. There has to be a willingness for some church members to share their lives, share in the ministries of the church if said church is going to retune for another life cycle of ministry. Thank God for those who are willing to share their voice and stay loyal amidst some difficult times.

  7. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Dave, Agreed … thank God for those who are willing to … stay…” It takes as special a calling to “stay” as it does to “go”, or so I would think:)???

Leave a Reply