DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Exit, Voice, Loyalty and the Church

Written by: on October 17, 2013

Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to decline in Organizations, Firms and State by  Albert O. Hirschman is a short and quick read but one packed with a load of analytical information on how people respond to deterioration and decline, whether in an organization, a grouping of any sort, government or firms.

The author initially begins with his observation that economic decline has not received as much attention as politics, morality, organizations or governments.  The two fold reason he provides is: first, the assumption that economists for the most part behave rationally; secondly, the reason for recovery of loss is minimal if none at all in the economic realm.  Hirschman then moves on to categorically describe the various responses of people to stop or reverse decline. People either give up and quit (exit), or speak up (voice) as long as it is possible,  on what is wrong and how it can be corrected.  Both of these forces, Hirschman argues are interconnected with and depend on the level of “loyalty”.   Rapid exit is not advantageous in the case of organizational decline.  In the present world where the possibilities exist for amplification of voice, this study is very relevant (SETHI 2010).  The book is an astounding description of the interplay of these three: “exit”, “voice” and “loyalty”, providing both a deterrent to decline and a mechanism for recuperation.

A good understanding of exit and voice, the connection between these responses along with the manner in which loyalty interfaces with the above, help improve performance in organizations.  This is a very timely read for me as I currently address the split of one of our growing churches within the organization.  This particular rural congregation established six years ago has currently grown to over 400 new believers.    A few months ago a small number of elders started to ‘voice’ their concerns over the pastor’s autocratic leadership and now finally about half of the congregation have decided to ‘exit’ and start a church on their own.   Obviously, as any Christian leader would know, this is not a peculiar incident.  It happens all the time, everywhere around the world in Christendom.

Hirschman has me thinking about the best option in this context.  I have in the past blindly advocated for ‘friendly exit’ as the best strategy in such situations and also seen multiple groups grow if they are true to their vision and mission.  Such a decision prevents ongoing squabbles within and protects the reputation of Christians in the community.  After reading Hirschman, I am contemplating on the possibility of creating an open and transparent space for voices to be raised and heard in a positive manner. The following questions come to mind:

What changes should be initiated so that these voices will be perceived as those of loyalists striving for mutual advantage, blessing and growth?

How should they present their case not as dissidents but as those seeking common benefit?  This is particularly important in a context where questioning authority in any manner or form is not readily accepted and for the most part carries negative connotations.

How can the pastor/leader receive this response from the congregation positively?

What lessons must be learnt and how can the quality of leadership improve through this testing experience?

What steps need to be taken to enable the Christian leader switch from a ‘coercion and control’ mindset (which is a culturally accepted norm within close knit communities and tribes), to consensus building?

If ‘exit’ is inevitable, how can it be facilitated through which everyone benefits and the Kingdom grows?

HIRSCHMAN, Albert O. Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses To Decline In Firms, Organisations, and States. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970.

SETHI, Rajiv. 04 2010. (accessed 10 15, 2013).

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Sam Stephens

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