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

From Voice to Exit

Written by: on October 20, 2016

Photo May 17, 1 08 26 PM_edited-1Calvin Presbyterian Church of Corvallis Oregon is a textbook case study in Exit, Voice, and Loyalty.

Albert O. Hirschman wrote Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States as a study of businesses and organizations, and what happens when the quality of the products or of the organization itself decline. He shows how “exit” and “voice” are used to communicate consumer and member dissatisfaction to leaders, and how “loyalty” to a company or organization affects voice and exit. His study compares and contrasts the worlds of economics, politics, volunteer organizations, etc, and when exit or voice are most likely to be used.

The functional understanding of “exit” is that when someone is unhappy with a product or organization they stop buying that product or leave the organization. “Voice is here defined as any attempt at all to change, rather than to escape from, an objectionable state of affairs, whether through individual or collective petition to the management directly in charge.” [1]

Calvin Presbyterian Church holds to a long standing and traditional conservative evangelical faith and theology. As years went by it became increasingly difficult to be a part of the Presbyterian Church U. S. A. This denomination was on a nearly one hundred year trajectory that was perceived by many evangelicals in the denomination as becoming less and less Scriptural in its values, theology, and practice.

Calvin Church exercised voice in light of this deterioration of our “product.” We used voice by attending and speaking up at Presbytery meetings and by participating in Presbytery committees. When the denomination made seriously bad decisions a number of years ago, resulting in a loss of trust, the Calvin Church elders ceased to give mission money, and with another subsequent bad decision notified the Presbytery that we would no longer pay our per-capita apportionment. The Presbytery was informed as to the “why” of our actions.

There was no discernible change resulting from our exercise of voice, and the voices of many other churches. What we did observe was that no one from our church was ever appointed to any of the significant “power committees” within the Presbytery.

After years of exercising voice (for some of us, in excess of thirty years) the denomination made one final and fatal decision and the staff and elders of Calvin Church said, “we’re done,” and we began the process of exit. That process took eighteen months and absorbed more time and energy than we had anticipated. Part of the energy and emotional cost came in the form of pressure not to exit, from those who had a higher level of denominational loyalty than did we. Many Presbyterian pastors and congregations exercised loyalty for years, but in the end theological integrity and loyalty to Scripture had to overrule institutional loyalty.

Fortunately our elders did not allow denominational anxiety to cause a failure of nerve, and we stayed the course. Eventually the exit was successful, and we “entered” into the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Calvin is now in an organization with high quality product, and where our voice is valued.

“Voice is like exit in that it can be overdone…” [2] Early in Donald Trump’s popularity the common comment was that people were voting for a political outsider in protest against the stranglehold the political establishment has on government. How that voice has been overdone! Now we are in danger of electing the singularly least qualified and most morally bankrupt candidate in this writer’s lifetime.

In my experience and observation, despite our church’s experience with the PCUSA, exit is normally easier than voice. We need look no farther than Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, and Tiananmen Square in China to observe modern day examples of the cost of voice.

Besides these severe examples of the cost of exercising voice, there are less radical examples, such as the “America: Love It Or Leave It” (bumper sticker) campaign in the 1960s, which seemed to arise in response to Viet Nam War protests. america_love_it_or_leave_it_bumper_bumper_sticker[1]Enormous pressure was brought to bear to force conformity to a narrow understanding of what it means to demonstrate love for and loyalty to America. Currently we are observing a similar pressure on Colin Kaepernick, quarter back of the San Francisco Forty Niner football team, and his non-standing protest to the National Anthem. Many castigate him for his behaviors, but as a counter point others say that they would never do what he has done, but support his right to exercise voice in this way.

In Chapter 8, “Exit and Voice in American Ideology and Practice,” Hirschman offered a brief history that indicates that exit is, in a sense, the American Way. Our country came into being by way of exit: exit from Europe and when voice protest to the British Crown was ignored, exit from England. He wrote, “…exit has been accorded an extraordinarily privileged position in the American tradition, but then, suddenly, it is wholly proscribed, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, from a few key situations.” [3]

Sadly, the “Exit DNA” of America has had serious unintended consequences: The ease of exit as a mechanism of protest is demonstrated in the speed with which American Christians leave churches, because some (often trivial) thing doesn’t go their way. Perhaps the worst manifestation of exit is the frequency divorce in America. It is almost easier to get a divorce and exit a marriage than it is to get a driver’s license.

“Exit is unsettling to those who stay behind as there can be no ‘talking back’ to those who have exited. By exiting one renders his arguments unanswerable. The remarkable influence wielded by martyrs throughout history can be understood in those terms, for the martyr’s death is exit at its most irreversible and argument at its most irrefutable.” [4]DSC_0959 DSC_0967







Exit, Voice, and Loyalty is a fascinating study of how individuals and organizations express feelings and opinions about the state of affairs in and around one’s life.

[1] Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970), 30.
[2] Ibid., 31.
[3] Ibid., 106.
[4] Ibid., 126.

About the Author


Marc Andresen

I have a B. A. in Music from San Diego State University and received an M. Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1977. July 1 2015 I retired after 38 years in pastoral ministry. The passion and calling that developed in the last 20 years is leadership training in cross-cultural contexts, as my wife and I have had many opportunities to teach in Eastern Europe and Africa. I have been married for 38 years and have two adult children, one daughter-in-law and a beautiful granddaughter. My hobbies are photography and British sports cars.

11 responses to “From Voice to Exit”

  1. So much here Marc, thanks! It sounds like that 18 month journey of leaving was draining both emotionally and energy wise. The Hub is the 3rd Vineyard Church plant in Sunland. When VineyardII closed in town my area leader called me and said I needed to call every single person in that church because when churches close, there will be some people who will never step foot back into a church. Did you find that with your exit, were there people who have just never gone back to any church?

    • mm Marc Andresen says:


      Yes – the 18 months was really draining, as you have said.

      We did lose some people through our transition. I actually don’t know if any of them never re-engaged. I know some went to 1st Presbyterian downtown. Actually – I would guess about one couple that may not have connected with another church. I didn’t really have the time or energy to pursue them. But when I see them next I’ll ask.

      Your area leader is right, tragically. We just had a young guy do some painting in our house, and he told me he’d been involved in a church as a youth – but “never found a church like it” since he moved. THAT is way too common a response of people.

  2. Pablo Morales says:

    It seems that those years in your pastoral ministry must have been draining. Thank you for staying the course. I am glad that you can now look back and realize that the church is in a better place because you stayed true to your biblical convictions.

    Thinking of exit and voice as cultural values was a new thought for me. Yet, it did help explain some of my experiences serving in pastoral ministry here in the US. I Chile, voice is more valued than exit. Thus, church was like family. Few people would exit because at least you could talk about things. In contrast, I have noticed in the US that people change churches more often and are more likely to approach it as consumers rather than family. Exit, rather than voice, is a higher value. As a pastor, it is hard not to take it personally when people leave.

    Thank you for a good blog. May the least worst candidate win.

    • mm Marc Andresen says:


      I have heard, and would agree, that the most difficult and painful experience for pastors is when people leave the church – and we DO tend to take it personally.

      “I read an article a few years ago entitled “Not So Fast.” (I’m not sure what happened to it, so I cannot quote it directly.) The gist of the article was that unless the church is teaching heresy, you may not leave your church. While that may be a bit of an overstatement, I appreciated the blunt and direct way the article called for the end of this “Consumer Religion” approach to American Christianity.

      During our 18 months’ process of leaving the PCUSA we held many “community conversations” designed to give “voice” and to hedge against “exit” (although I wouldn’t have known at the time to give it these labels). Our elders listened well and then had our own meetings where the hard decisions were made.

      I’d love to hear about your family travels sometime.

  3. Claire Appiah says:

    Thank you for such an excellent analysis and contextualization of Hirschman’s book. You have made me realize that exit, voice, and loyalty are neutral concepts. These strategies can lead to positive or negative ends depending upon how and why each is utilized or perceived to attain a specific purpose or outcome. You stated, “Many Presbyterian pastors and congregations exercised loyalty for years, but in the end theological integrity and loyalty to Scripture had to overrule institutional loyalty.” Could a question of loyalty be one of the reasons for massive exits from the church? Loyalty to Scripture in tension with institutional loyalty! Are far too many congregations lacking Spiritual enrichment and empowerment through the full counsel of God’s living Word, and instead being indoctrinated in institutional theologies that do not satisfy the soul?

    • mm Marc Andresen says:


      Great perspective: they are neutral concepts and the outcomes can go to the positive or the negative.

      Do people leave the church out of loyalty to Scripture? In some instances (we had people come to our church from “liberal” churches on rare occasions), but my anecdotal analysis would be that people mostly leave for personal and immature reasons. Someone commented that most church fights are over non-Biblical issues, and I must agree. Many people that left our church through the years had some pretty trivial reasons. Really I must say, although it sounds judgmental, virtually all the people who left, exited for immature reasons (I don’t like guitars, I didn’t get invited to be on the elder board, the church culture wasn’t a fit).

      However, I’m sure there are some church-member exits that happen because there is a lack of clear Biblical teaching. I actually had two friends come to my office one day to tell me that they thought my preaching had gotten shallow. It was hurtful, but I took it to heart, rekindled old study/preparation patterns, and those two men did not exit the church. So, I think that was a “win” for us all.

  4. Isn’t it interesting that we all bring so much to the table of belief? I was a part of the University of Tulsa Chi Alpha when there were some of these issues going on. TU is very liberal and went with the organization. In the middle of all this change the one person who was most “un-Christlike” was relieved of his position and that transformed the community of faith. The exit and voice had enough power to bring about this change.

    Since you have been in other churches this whole past year, what have you found? As an outsider and an observer, what have you learned about your faith and about your belief system? Anything you would have changed over those years of service to the local church?


    • mm Marc Andresen says:


      Is there anything I would have changed over those years…oh my – the list would be VERY long. One case in particular where one church member made comments (as a deacon, in an e mail) that was offensive to another couple. (Sadly, it had something to do with conservative and liberal politics.) We knew we had to get these two couples together to exercise voice with each other, but I did not move quickly or decisively, and too much time went by. The offending couple left the church. Now, in a sense I was not sad about that departure, but I own my failure to create the voice opportunity.

      The first question, about what I’ve learned in the last year would also fill a small book. I will say that I was encouraged by one church where I was asked to preach a number of times through last fall. They were having issues with their pastor (a disintegrating marriage) and I tried to help them a little. I was encouraged to see the way people in that church did NOT exit. I believe their community is healthier and tighter today because of it.

      My personal experience also is that community is one of the most defining aspects of what it means to be church. We can go anywhere and worship and hear preaching. But I have really missed the community of my church. (This morning – in about 10 minutes – we will return to my old church for the first time.)

  5. mm Garfield Harvey says:

    Great perspective in this blog. You suggested that “exit is normally easier than voice.” This is definitely a fair statement because although I have an American citizenship, I’ve never voted in my native country of Jamaica. I felt like I needed a better life because of the depreciation of our economy so when the opportunity presented itself to migrate, I didn’t hesitate to take it. The unfortunate part about it is that I haven’t been home in almost six years but I don’t think about it much. Yes, there are many people affected by my exit but such is the case with selfishness (or living in the moment).


    • mm Marc Andresen says:


      I have to believe that your exit from Jamaica was God’s plan; for where He needed you to be in order to serve His Kingdom in the way of His plan. Isn’t it the case, that exist is in fact God’s plan at times because of the larger Kingdom perspective of the where, what, and why of His workings?

      I can see how that would be a tough thing for you to process personally, because all of our decisions impact other people. When we moved to Oregon 26+ years ago I knew it was God’s will. I didn’t anticipate that it would be tough going for a while for my then 10 year old son. But in the end, living here has been written into God’s plan for my son’s life. I’m sure you miss family in Jamaica.

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