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

Voice by Exit

Written by: on October 6, 2015

In his book, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to decline in firms, organizations, and states, Albert Hirschman writes of a simple concept … in complicated fashion. Hirschman’s ultimate point is that when customers are dissatisfied with the goods, services, or possible climate and culture of an organization, they have two basic responses:

  1. Customers can stop buying, employing, and participating in the organization and thus exit.
  2. Customers can speak-up about their dissatisfaction and raise concern for necessary or desired change and consequently give voice to their concerns.[1]

While initially intriguing due to the true and simple nature of the forces of exit and voice interacting in many experiences in a capitalistic, mixed economy, much of Hirschman’s diagnostics and observations are overly complicated for the basic concepts being discussed.

My reaction to this text could be personal, however, as I feel church health and multiplication tends to be a dynamic arena for the forces of exit, voice, and loyalty and Hirschman’s breakdown of economic scenarios paled in comparison. Hirschman did try to apply his concept to other arenas as well, but other than his chapter on the ideology of America where he states, “The United States owes its very existence and growth to millions of decisions favoring exit over voice.”[2] Hirschman’s tendency was to overcomplicate the basic issues.

In church health and multiplication I see three main scenarios as that center on the tensions of exit, voice, and loyalty. First, existing churches that engage in a process of refocusing, tend to be environments of high voice. Secondly, church plants tend to be environments of high exit. Finally, churches that multiply tend to find the best balance of creating an equalized voice and exit environment.

The refocusing of existing churches takes place because change needs to happen and the desire to keep customers engaged is prioritized. The need for change is heard as members express their loyalty by being committed to stay with the ship even if it is going to go down. But the acknowledgement of that voice of change desired is expressed by a church being willing to engage in a refocusing program. Many times this process initially works, avoiding an exit of key members, but usually doesn’t create the necessary change to see long-term results.

The reality of most church planting stories is that they are high exit, low voice environments.  Most plants come as a result of an exit from an existing church or church background that wants to “be the change it desires to see.” While plants usually start with such a conception they usually tend to keep that culture as a fresh vision and mission are laid out and a new set of values are aspired to be attained. The dynamic of participation leans heavily into the buy-in of the new vision, mission and values and limited time, space, and energy are given for opposing voice.

Lastly, purposely, multiplying churches create a ideal balance between exit and voice allowing for optimum loyalty. This is best accomplished be creating an incremental place for voice in the mothering or sending church that builds and creates an ownership to the vision, mission, and values. At the same time, while creating a space for more buy-in, space for possible dissenting voices is created for an exit to be sent out for the next site, city, or community for a new work to be created.

So while Hirschman’s prevailing concept is relevant to many firms, organizations, and institutions today, I believe there could be a better way of writing such a text that would be more applicable and a better tool for many organizations.  Therefore, this being my voice, I wish the exit!

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

[2] Ibid., Hirschman, 106.

About the Author

Phillip Struckmeyer