Evangelical MLM Evangelicalism

Evangelical MLM Evangelicalism September 23, 2016

CulpeperBaptistby Bruce Gerencser cross posted from his blog The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser

Several days ago, I wrote a post titled J.A. Medders Asks: What Do You Think Jesus is Doing Right Now?.

As I read the comments on this post, I had thoughts about how similar multi-level marketing (MLM) programs are to the various methods and programs Evangelicals use to evangelize people they deem unsaved/lost/unregenerate and headed for hell. This post will details these similarities.

From 1995-2002, I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. During my tenure at this church, I had to deal with well-intentioned members and Christian friends who tried to recruit me into their MLM programs. I was an attractive candidate due to the fact that I had a name-filled Rolodex that could be mined for new victims. Always polite and respectful, I never said NO and this made me an easy target for church members who were involved with selling everything from Amway to long distance telephone service.

One day the telephone rang and it was Brother Bob (names changed to protect the guilty) calling to ask if he would come over and talk to me about something that he was SURE I would find interesting and exciting; an opportunity to help other people and make money too. I thought, Not again, but not wanting to upset Brother Bob, I said, sure, when would you like to come over?

The next night a new Cadillac pulled into our driveway. Unbeknownst to me, Brother Bob had brought someone else with him. Great, I thought, now I have to deal with Brother Bob AND a stranger.  As they came on to our front deck, I opened the door, and putting on the biggest I love Jesus smile possible, I invited them into our spacious, palatial 14’x70′ home on wheels.

Brother Bob was wearing Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, while the intruder who came with him looked like he stepped out of the pages of a fashion catalog. After trading pleasantries, I invited Brother Bob and the now-I-know-your-name stranger into our expansive 70 square foot dining room. Brother Bob sat on one side of the table, I sat on the other side, and the stranger — let’s call him Dick — sat at the head of the table.

Dick relaxed into his chair, putting both arms on the table with hands clasped. In doing so, I couldn’t help but notice his Rolex watch and large diamond ring. These accessories were a perfect match for his calendar model look. From this point forward, Brother Bob didn’t say another word. Dick began talking to me about wants, needs, and desires, focusing on the accrual of wealth and material goods. At this point, he had not yet told me WHY he and Brother Bob were there. Having evangelized hundreds of people over the years, I knew Dick was trying to make me think that we were friends and that we had common wants, needs, and desires. He regaled me with stories about how his standard of living had mushroomed since he joined — are you ready? drum roll please —  AMWAY.

Dick asked if I had ever heard of AMWAY. I told him I had, but that didn’t stop him from giving me a well-rehearsed speech about the history and wonders of AMWAY. After 30 minutes or so, Dick thought it was time to close the deal. He asked me if I wanted to earn more money and improve my standard of living — offensively assuming that there was something wrong with my current lifestyle. Dick reiterated all that Amway had done for him, sure that I would want the same things. Imagine his surprise when I told him that I really wasn’t interested in accumulating material goods.

Dick had said he was a Christian, so I was somewhat surprised that he didn’t know that the Bible said:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2:15-17)

I shared with Dick my view of wealth and material goods, and it became quickly clear to him that I was NOT a prospect for AMWAY. Dick quickly ended his attempt to hustle me, saying to Brother Bob that it was time for them to go to their next appointment. I shook hands with them, walked them to the door, and off into the night they went looking to suck the blood out of other friends of Brother Bob.

Over the course of 50 years in the Christian church and twenty-five years in the ministry, I knocked on the doors of thousands of homes as I followed the Bible mandate to preach the gospel from house to house. My goal, regardless of the church I pastored, was to knock on the doors of every home, introduce myself, and, if possible, share the gospel. I also encouraged church members to get me into the homes of their lost loved ones so I could share with them the wondrous good news that Jesus Saves!

I believed throughout my years in the Christian church that every person in the world needed to hear the gospel. While my fervor greatly waned in later years, I still considered it my duty and responsibility to put a good word in for Jesus whenever possible. It always troubled me that OTHER Christians (and pastors) didn’t seem as bothered as I was about the lostness of their family, friends, and neighbors. Despite hearing and knowing the gospel, most church members showed little interest in getting others saved. I suspect most members viewed me as some sort of hired gun trained in the art of winning souls. Content to invite the unsaved to church so they could hear me preach, church members busied themselves with building a kingdom on this earth. No matter how often I attempted to raise an army to wage war against sin and the devil, most members were content to let me and a handful of other zealots do all the evangelism.

Think for a moment about soulwinning Evangelicals and the preachers of the  various MLM gospels. The methodology, techniques and promises are quite similar:

  • Both attempt to befriend people in hopes of getting them to buy what they are selling.
  • Both attempt to manipulate emotions in hopes of making people sympathetic to their sales pitch.
  • Both attempt to bolster their sales spiel with stories of how wonderful their lives are since betting saved/joining MLM program.
  • Both attempt to appeal to prospective customers with promises of a better life.
  • Both promise lives of meaning, purpose, and helping others.
  • Both attempt to impress on people the importance of making an immediate decision.
  • Both leave literature if people want to think about it or are unwilling to make an immediate decision

I am sure there are other connections. If you think of any, please share them in the comment section.

I am sure that Evangelicals will object to how I have painted their evangelistic efforts, but the fact remains the Evangelicals are sales people with a product to sell: forgiveness of sin, salvation, and a home in heaven. This product purportedly offers purchasers joy, happiness, meaning, and purpose. The difference between what Evangelicals are selling and what the MLM zealots offer is that Evangelicals attempt to sell an invisible product that may not pay off until after death. Those who buy into the Jesus Saves program must exercise faith, believing in the end that the multi-level marketer in the sky — Jesus — will move them to the top of the MLM pyramid, granting them a sparking new mansion along streets of pure gold. With AMWAY, at least, converts can — in this life — judge the quality and truthfulness of its claims. This is why most people drop out of MLM programs, while most  Evangelicals stay in their program until the end. Imagine what might happen if people required Jesus’ soul-saving MLM program to pay out BEFORE death. Why, most people would abandon Evangelical churches in short order.

As long as Evangelical churches promise things that can only be gained AFTER death, people will hang on, hoping that after death they will cash in their eternal lottery ticket. While religion certainly has (for some people) utilitarian value, I do wonder if people would spend time going to church, giving their money, and attempting to live according to the teachings of an ancient religious text if there were no divine payoff.

Think back to your Evangelical days. If there was no life after death, no eternal reward, would you have been a Christian? Would you have lived as you did? If this life is all there is, how differently would you have lived your life. Please share your thoughtful ruminations in the comment section.

moreRead more by Bruce Gerencser:

Get Your Personal Demons Cast Out by Bob Larson


Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Bruce Gerencser blogs at The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser He writes from the unique perspective of having been a pastor for many years and having seen it all in churches. His journey out of being a true believer and pastor has been an interesting and informative one.

Bruce Gerencser spent 25 years pastoring Independent Fundamental Baptist, Southern Baptist, and Christian Union churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. Bruce attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. He is a writer and operates The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser blog. Bruce lives in NW Ohio with his wife of 35 years. They have six children, and eleven grandchildren.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • KarenH

    They both act like you’ve never heard of Jesus/AMWAY before.

  • Nightshade

    ‘If there was no life after death, no eternal reward, would you have been a Christian? Would you have lived as you did?’ No, I would not. I don’t know what I would have done differently, I’m sure I’d still have some regrets, but they would be different regrets. I just wish I had broken away many years ago before raising my kids in that toxic cesspool. That’s my biggest regret, that I allowed my kids to be indoctrinated because I didn’t trust my own judgment enough to get out sooner.

  • Astrin Ymris

    Honestly, it amazes me that so many fundgelicals apparently see no intrinsic value in the social justice teachings of Jesus, absent the carrot-and-stick of Heaven and Hell.

    Though logically if only Christians get eternal life, there isn’t any Hell as commonly portrayed. Sinners’ souls just pop out of existence like soap bubbles after bodily death, rather than being consigned to perpetual torture in the afterlife.

  • Mel

    Both groups look down on members who aren’t working hard enough at the goals of the organization.

    I have always looked askance at people who wanted me to get really into door-to-door evangelicalism. Honestly, I don’t see anything in the Bible that meant that Jesus showed up unannounced at people’s homes with the intent of explaining his message to them. He traveled, sure, but people came to him and the message spread mainly through person-to-person connections. People who were motivated enough to want to know more found Jesus or an apostle or whoever to talk to.

    I think this gives me a bit more sympathy for Bruce’s congregants. If someone wants to know about my church, I’ll tell them whatever they want to know. If they want more info or are interested in attending services, I’ll facilitate that, too, but if they really want to become Catholic, I’m gonna need to connect them with the people who are actually trained for that kind of thing.

  • Pen Guin

    Amway, what a scam.

  • hotapplepie

    Even if there was no life after death, and no eternal reward, I still believe that following the teachings of Jesus Christ is its own reward.
    Showing kindness and compassion, speaking out against oppression, feeding the needy, and loving your neighbor are all things worth doing for the good of society as a whole.
    The organized church has gotten it completely wrong. I really wish that we could get our priorities straight and start caring like Jesus cared.

  • Marcus Ochoa

    I’m in a MLM. It’s changed my life (for the better) on several levels and one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

  • Astrin Ymris
  • Marcus Ochoa

    Exactly, there are some “bad apples” in the home based business basket (which tend to give them all a bad name). But there are also some great ones. That’s why it’s important to do some research. It’s starts with the product. If a company has a great product that someone uses, loves, and would recommend even if they weren’t involved in the business, then that’s a winner.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    For most folks MLM are a terrible idea. They work for the very few at the top.

    Years ago my husband and I joined Amway very briefly, merely to get half the broker’s fee back when we bought our home in 1990. We’d tried the products and didn’t think they were any better than free market items available for a lesser price. We were extremely turned off the the endless meetings, brain washing like training and culture of greed pervasive in the company combined with a distasteful Evangelical Christian slant to everything. That’s before you take in the relentless hectoring by those in your ‘upline’ to sign up others. We signed up to get that 3K back and promptly unjoined as soon as we had the check in our hands. It would never have worked for us.

    In my old church it was the pastor’s wife that was the MLM pressuring women. She sold Pampered Chef, which are also inferior products compared to the professional grade chef supplies you can buy. She ended up signing up about 95% of the women of the church in her downline and everyone bought madly to curry favor with her. After Amway I was one of the few that resisted her attempts. I had pretty much anything you could need to cook, in better quality, than anything PC could offer me and I wasn’t looking to spend time or money on this.

    If it works for you then great. For me the shameless grab for filthy lucre in most of these organizations is an immense turn off. Life is about more than money.

  • Marcus Ochoa

    I agree, it’s not for everyone. In any case, here’s an article I recently wrote on this topic (but specifically for the company I’m involved with) – http://coachquestions.com/should-you-become-a-beachbody-coach/

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    I admit I know nothing about Beach Bodies and at least it looks like you get the satisfaction of helping others with what you do, unlike Amway or Pampered Chef.

  • Astrin Ymris

    The Religious Right and the Corporate Right are often intertwined through the Prosperity Gospel. If you believe that God rewards righteous Christians with wealth and the secular government is evil, it doesn’t seem that big a step to assuming that God wants you to take advantage of any opportunities to enrich yourself, regardless of legality.

    Many preachers claim that Christians are entitled to ignore civil and criminal law if they’re following “God’s Will”. That’s usually applied to international adoption and Planned Parenthood stings, but I can see that slipping into justifying a lot of financial chicanery.

  • Astrin Ymris

    True, but I think you do need to look closely at the financial structure of the program also.

  • Abigail Smith

    amen! I agree…all that “pesky” serving others (snark) so they can do the real work of annoying people….