I confess (How’s that for the start of a blog post?) that I was not certain which path to follow after reading Albert O. Hirschman’s Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States. Reading about Exit I naturally thought in terms of those exiting the Church. From a consumer standpoint I could also relate to the choices and changes in product purchases. I am somewhat fascinated by the evolution and retro-lution (yes, I think I did make that word up) of product labels.
Voice provides another approach, one with possibilities from those that are exiting Church and those that exit from a chosen consumer good. Clearly from the title the book’s subject is how one (individual, group or even an organization) respond to decline. Somewhere in the mix is the realization and an agreement of sorts to the purpose and intent of the product. If it is to produce something, what is it?
This is of course part of the problem as well as indicative of the solution. Stirred into the mix is the aspect of loyalty. There are items I buy because I have always bought them. Even though the packaging might have changed (usually smaller) and even if the label changes (it might be harder to find, especially if the grocery store rearranges itself) I stick with it. But not always, years ago Coca Cola changed its signature product introducing New Coke. It was a colossal failure. People exited, they did not buy into the change and they stopped buying (period). The drop in sales revenue alerted management that indeed there was a problem. Voices were raised as people complained and no doubt stockholders also took note. There was plenty of new coke to purchase in the stores, but you could not find the Classic Coca Cola anywhere. This void remained for a short time until enough product could be shipped to stores, vendors and restaurants. Interestingly this void created longing, which reinforced loyalty. Some might even suggest that it created loyalty. This has all the elements Hirschman explores in Exit, Voice and Loyalty. But there is another aspect of the market that is stirring for me, one that in a slightly strange way is subtly connected.
I live in the region known as the Pacific Northwest. My dissertation focus is on why Baby Boomers leave the Church and what it might mean for their faith development. Our region is even known as the None-zone (and this was even before the 2012 Pew Research report on the growing number of Americans with no religious affiliation). People of Christian religious faith are well acquainted with the numbers of people that do not attend church and even fewer that might profess faith in Jesus Christ. So there has been great attention focused on the development and expansion of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. In recent years its primary founder and pastor (until yesterday), Mark Driscoll has received celebrity status in many Christian circles. His sermons are on YouTube (and have thousands of views), he has presented at numerous conferences where he pulled no punches (well actually he did throw a few) in telling his audience his version of why the Church was not successful and what was needed to bring about change. And he was listened too, even when there were reservations. I recall hearing from someone attending voicing his concern about Driscoll’s techniques – tone of speech and language, but brushed it aside because clearly his message was getting through as hundreds of young adults were accepting Christ and joining the church. The end result justified the means.
Until recently the results supported the means. Loyalty is powerful. Over the years the loyalty of Mark Driscoll had never been a question. It often strengthened the bonds between his parishioners and himself. Irrational loyalty expresses itself when there is strong attachment to an organization that goes beyond what is rational. How else can you explain the deaf ears when other staff pastors or elders voiced concern over the church’s direction or the consolidation of control with Driscoll? Expressed, they were silenced as they were released and shunned. There were voices expressing concern, leaving Hirschman’s words with a prophetic sound, “Exit is here considered as treason and voice as mutiny.” The Mars Hill ship steered by Driscoll only seemed to roll with the waves. But eventually there came charges that required attention: church funds were utilized to promote one of Driscoll’s books onto the New York Times bestseller list, assertions of intimidation and bullying, lack of financial oversight and the list seemed to grow. The occasional media articles were no longer occasional. The means had an underside that seemed the opposite (opposed?) to the fruits of the Spirit.
At this turn of events I am wondering at the role of exit, voice and loyalty utilized not by members of Mars Hill or the public that has surely called out and drawn attention to Mars Hill, but by Mark Driscoll himself. I wonder at the influence of loyalty in Driscoll’s exit and the voice behind his resignation. The heart in the shunned and abused voices that have sought Driscoll’s resignation was anchored in a call for repentance. Yet I wonder if voice initially thought to lose out was actually turned around. Did Driscoll find it effective to utilize his previous exit (leave of absence) and voice as “new ways of exerting influence and pressure toward recovery?” I don’t know.
Social scientists, psychologists and (hopefully) theologians and Christian leaders will examine what has taken place. In the end, exit probably was the tipping point. Attendance and giving dropped significantly, church branches have closed, and buildings are for sale. What has happened cannot be undone. The question remains if there will be an effective recovery. Unlike the new coke, perhaps there is something to be discovered in what we might call the classics of our faith.
 Hirschman, 121.
 Hirschman, 80.