In his book Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States, Albert O. Hirschman puts words to a reality that we inherently know, but don’t always have a concise way to express. When people become dissatisfied with an organization, whether it be political, commercial, or something else, they express their dissatisfaction by either exit or voice. In the case of a commercial institution, a customer will stop shopping at a particular store (exit) or voice his/her complaint to the management (voice).
This is a profound concept for churches. Churches are always trying to “close the back door” or “remove the revolving door”. In essence, churches recognize that people can and do leave a local church as easily as they come. In light of “exit” and “voice”, this makes perfect sense. In our churches today, exit is easy; After all, there are five more churches just down the road. As I see it, there are four possible approaches to stave the rate of exit.
- Return to a Pre-Protestant World
Boy, life sure was good in the Middle Ages. There was one church with all the power and influence (at least that is what my westernized version of world history tells me). Sure, there was the option of exit and voice, but exit meant excommunication and eternal fire, not a bad deterrent. Voice meant heresy and death. While returning to the Pre-Reformation Europe would be an intriguing experiment, it probably is not very feasible.
- Start a Cult
Who doesn’t enjoy a good cult? Hitching a ride on the Hale Bopp Comet or hanging out with John Travolta could be fun. As leader, you get to make your own rules and coerce others into supporting you. You also get to make it very difficult to exit and make people feel horrible for giving voice. Just remember to bring your own beverage to the potluck dinners, especially when going with a South American theme.
- Create a Space for Voice
In lieu of starting a cult or returning to the Middle Ages, a better approach is to create space in which a person is truly heard. Hirschman tells us, “…the decision whether to exit will often be taken in the light of prospects for the effective use of voice. If customers are sufficiently convinced that voice will be effective, then they may well postpone exit.” Many pastors and leaders live in fear of confrontation. As a result, many are unwilling to listen to someone who has a different point of view. This failure to allow voice compels many to exit the church. Listening and hearing the voice of others not only creates a better atmosphere of community, it can help everyone grow and work together for the mutual good.
A wise pastor will seek to put voice to exit. There is ALWAYS a reason for an exit. Rather than chalking it up to the fickleness of our post-modern world, wise leaders will seek to hear the voice of those who have already made an exit.
- Nurture Loyalty
“A member with a considerable attachment to a product or organization will often search for ways to make himself influential, especially when the organization moves in what he believes is the wrong direction; conversely, a member who wields (or thinks he wields) considerable power in an organization and is therefore convinced that he can get it ‘back on track’ is likely to develop a strong affection for the organization in which he is powerful.”
Loyalty can be the determining factor when someone is considering whether to leave or whether to work through the issues. While there are many aspects of developing loyalty, I believe that within a healthy church, loyalty hinges on relationships. Deep personal relationships make it more likely that a person will talk through their concerns rather than just leaving. It is easy to leave an organization or church when no really cares about you. It is quite another thing to walk away from close friends who have walked beside you. Developing healthy relationships creates space for voice, which can significantly reduce exit.
 Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970), 4.
 Ibid., 37.
 Ibid., 77-78.