When we are dissatisfied with an organization, said economist Albert O. Hirschman, we have three basic options:
1. Exit: We can leave it, either physically, or by mentally and emotionally disengaging,
2. Voice: We can voice our discontent through protest or dialogue, or
3. Loyalty: We may stick with what we have. This might be because our freedom of exit and/or voice is limited (e.g. in an authoritarian state). However, we may stick with it because we feel that the world would be a worse place without the organization, even if it is broken, and that weakening it would be worse that the current situation.
Scholarly study of the Community of Christ has tended to focus on its history and theology. These are clearly important, but there gaps in Community of Christ studies that could be productively filled with reference to insight from the social sciences, like economics, political science, sociology, anthropology and social psychology. In this post, I want to highlight this potentially fruitful avenue of research by applying microeconomic theory to explore why Community of Christ congregations tend to be quite small (in the 30-50 people range).
Before I begin, I must start with a caveat. I am not actually an economist; I am a political scientist. I dabbled around the very edges of economics in my Master’s and PhD degrees, and went to a graduate school obsessed with economics. So, if there are any real economists out there reading this — feel free to comment below.
I will start with a problematic: Why is that most CofC congregations in North America and Europe rarely average more than 30 to 50 active members? My hypothesis is that they rarely expand beyond this size because of their predominantly lay leadership and middle-class members. As a result, congregations do not have have the money or human resources to attract or to minister to many more people. Pastors have other jobs, so have little extra time for counseling, home visits, outreach, etc. Moreover, a lack of seminary training reduces pastors ‘productivity’ as spiritual leaders.