Evangelical MLM Evangelism

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.

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13 Comments

  1. JR

    ‘Evangelism training’ i experienced as a christian student is very similar to sales training I once received.
    1. Spark their interest
    2.show them their need
    3. Go through the technical bit (gospel outline)
    4. Seal the deal (come to church, take a gospel or if you are lucky give their life to JC.)

    I was once told that studies on religious conversion showed the average conversion takes 5 or more years of exposure to christian people, their lives and practices. This always troubled me as it seemed like the spirit no longer opened eyes in an instant like in acts and the gospel outline method was a waste of time.

    Reply
  2. Steve

    Nothing like good ‘ol Amway; one of the worlds great scourges

    Reply
    1. Sarah

      True. Talk about pyramid schemes.

      Reply
  3. Sarah

    I hated the idea of trying to force my beliefs on someone else. It just made me feel icky. I don’t think I would have ever been a conservative Christian if not for having religion pushed on me since I was a kid. Fear of hell had a lot to do with it. The idea of someone loving another enough to die for them appealed to me, but the lack of logic, hatred, and the lecture I received about how mercy is evil were pretty unappealing. My favorite one was if I were just more faithful I wouldn’t have(fill in the blank) or if I would just be mean and manipulative to my husband and force him to (do as his elders told him to do that was usually in their best interest but not his) then (fill in blank) would be better. My favorite was being told that my food allergies would go away if I just had a little more faith or I miscarried because my husband was not faithful to church or because I had hidden sin in my life. I also was rather disturbed by the way my father in law was treated when he lay dying, how Christian it was to deny him burial, and the multitude of lectures my husband and I received about how he is in hell. This was a man who took in those that nobody else would help. He fed the poor with his own limited resources, reformed drug addicts, and aided troubled children. He was an atheist and the most “Christ-like” person I have ever met.

    Reply
  4. JR

    In answer to your question about if there was no eternal reward would you have been a christian? – Not me. Even apostle Paul admits that without hope of future resurrection there is no point.

    It is strange to me how most christians live with the idea that this life is essentially just a big dress rehearsal. .. or even audition!! for the next life.
    They are eagerly waiting for the next life without wondering why God gave us this first lousy one. Any thoughts?

    Reply
    1. anotherami

      I’m currently in an introspective phase in my spiritual life which has included asking myself why I still believe in Something I call God, especially when what I believe differs so greatly from the fundamentalist/evangelical beliefs Bruce illuminates here. While my faith originated in non-evangelical Quakerism, a “liberal/progressive Christian church”, I no longer call myself Christian, so I’m not confused with the Pat Robertson/Joel Olstein/Steve Anderson crowd. One conclusion I have come to is that yes, I would still live my life in the same way, because I honestly believe it is a better way. (One could boil it down to essentially following the Golden Rule.) There may or may not be an afterlife, but either way, I should help my fellow humans along the way, just because it is right.

      Reply
    2. Tom

      I don’t think most Christians are “eagerly waiting for the next life”. Maybe the next ballgame for Favorite U, or the next vacation. In fact I think they dread death like anyone else-they run to the doctor over every malady, fearful they may have some terminal illness–just like most non-believers. I’m generalizing, but this is most likely so.

      Reply
  5. Troy

    My experience with MLM is rather limited (my skeptical nature provided me with a certain amount of immunity from this scourge) so I wouldn’t have made the connection but yes! evangelical religion and MLM are very similar.
    Your AMWAY experience is like my brief introduction to MLM, they start by emphasizing the rewards. In the case of Christianity the rewards are eternal, in MLM they emphasize the toys and lifestyles of the rich. The AMWAY rep’s use of flourish is chum on the bait and of course corresponds with the lap of luxury narrative. While it is debatable if MLM is a scam, it is at least legal. Other overt scams use the same tactic: “You’ve won 2 million in the lottery, but you must pay the taxes first.”
    If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

    (The MLM I avoided was NSA Jay Martin early 90s racket selling water filters, they now sell “Juice Plus” and had O.J. Simpson as a spokesman. The other one was something to do with internet advertising, but similarly it put the luxury lifestyle front an center.)

    Reply
  6. Monty

    When they tell you It’s not a pyramid scheme…..it’s guaranteed to be one!

    Reply
  7. Chris

    Reply
  8. Brian

    Well, I don’t think belief is so much about intelligence-quotient at all but about emotional need, particularly needs that are unconscious or mostly so. Preachers/Amway sales-folk are not in the business of intellectual challenge: They want to change your life! That is all about your emotional needs. If like Preacher Gerencser, you are already woo-woo so deep that the Amway guy can’t reach you, you win. All your eggs are already in Jesus’ basket. Amway loses and you save time and money! Thank-you Jeebers!
    My dad sold vacuums for awhile as a preacher and then some other MLM thing but not Amway. He failed at both in bringing in a few bucks that our big family needed because the Baptist Church did not care to properly pay him. Why does religion feel that harming people is good for them? Why do people flock to pews to be told-off, to be shouted out about the evil of every human heart? Why do we love to hate ourselves so much that religion is tax-free while we carry debt? Speaking of Amway, I lived in Bangkok for some years and used to pass a huge sign at the entrance of a soi quite often. It was the only English one around there: AMWAY. In freakin’ Bangkok… pass me the smelling salts.

    Reply
  9. TLC

    The summer after my junior year of college, I dated a really great guy who went to the same college I did. One week he planned a “very special” date. He asked me to wear a dress, took me to a really nice restaurant for dinner, sent a rose before the date — the whole nine yards. Then he took me into the city near us. I was a bit bewildered when he pulled up in front of an office building rather than a moive theater or bar or other date destination. I was even more confused when we went into an office and sat down in rows of chairs. I leaned over to him and joked, “What is this — an AMWAY meeting?” Just then the speaker came out and stated talking. And to my horror, I was right — it WAS an AMWAY meeting. Worst. Date. Ever.

    And a lot of my Christian experience has turned out to be like this date. It starts out all attractive and exciting, and there’s a big emotional rush as you get to know each other. And then, after a while, you think things are getting serious. You follow their directions and get all dressed up. But after you enjoy the dinner and the flowers, you find out that you’ve been completely misled. They’re not interested in YOU as a person. They just want to know much money you’ll make and how many people you’ll recruit to make more money. By the time you get home, you don’t even want to look at that stupid rose. And when you don’t play along and fake enthusiasm for their hare-brained ideas, they dump you.

    I did the right thing in dumping this guy. And I did the right thing in dumping fundagelical Christianity. In both cases, I am much better off.

    Reply
    1. Michael Mock

      I got pulled into one of those meetings, too. The arrangement was artful: all us new prospects got put in the front row, right in front of the speaker and as far from the doors as possible, with a whole room full of people behind us who were primed to clap enthusiastically whenever the speaker said anything vaguely inspirational.

      …Which was all he did, by the way. Thirty minutes in, I still didn’t know why we were there. So I left.

      I stood up, walked right back up the central aisle, paused at the doorway to tell the guy who’d “invited” me that I had a paper to finish and I was out of time, then went down to my car and drove off.

      I’m proud of that. It was one of the few times in my life when having an underdeveloped sense of social propriety was hugely advantageous.

      Reply

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