In his book Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Response to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States, Albert O. Hirschman discusses the reasons for people’s decline in loyalty to today’s organizations. When people are dissatisfied, they leave, voice objections or become disloyal. These behaviors give us valuable insight into the level of satisfaction of the people we serve, and also into how well we are doing to serve them.
Statistics show that many people are exiting church organizations in America. Approximately 1/3 of Americans are now secular in their beliefs and practices. Since 1990, the percentage of unchurched adults in America has risen from 30% – 43% of the population. In other words, Christianity is loosing market share. There are more churches closing than opening. People shop for churches and attend the one that seems to be the best fit. If members become dissatisfied, they are quick to leave. When a church is having struggles or when members aren’t satisfied, membership declines as people leave, complain, or gossip.
Today, many secular organizations place an emphasis on managing their relationships with customers and seeking to understand their needs. This is monitored through growth and retention behaviors exhibited. The way that an organization services their customer has a direct impact on their success. Companies pay close attention to their customer’s needs. People tend to remain loyal to organizations that treat them properly and provide them with value. Even new products are developed based on consumer behaviors. Organizational growth is reflection of they way customer needs are met.
In church, we often fail to manage relationships with members properly. Members respond to church in similar ways as consumers do in the business world. The heartbeat of a church is evidenced in talk amongst groups or on social media. Many times people’s voice is evidenced in a lack of growth or decline in membership. Hirschman gives an example of a declining public school system, where parents speak by sending their children to private schools. Similar scenarios are happening daily in churches around the US. Issues are evidenced when people leave, stop giving financially, or spread gossip. Churches can best serve their members by listening and seeking to connect with them, and by allowing members to have a voice. Creating a safe and inviting place for new ideas and sharing of concerns is critical. If voices aren’t heard, then problems can’t be resolved.
Given the exit of people attending churches in America, what can we do to be better listeners? What do these trends tell us? Churches must connect in the daily lives of individuals, and become a meaningful part of the communities in which they operate.
 Albert Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970)
 Dr. Richard J. Krejcir, “Statistics and Reasons for Church Decline,” Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development, 2007, accessed December 9, 2014, http://www.churchleadership.org/apps/articles/default.asp?articleid=42346&columnid=4545.
 Albert Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970) 45.