“It’s not a pyramid,” insisted my friend across the table, “It’s more of a web of ladders.”
Slice it any way you want, it was a pyramid. But I had known the guy for so long that I allowed myself to hear him out.
After all, it only cost $250 to join… and that’s a great investment considering the potential return! (or so I was told)
He shared the whole plan with me. He shared all the success stories. He took me to a large meeting at a hotel conference-center where millionaires in the program gave motivational speeches and sold the system to the group with all manner of hype and flash.
I even listened to the audio tapes he gave me.
In case the “tapes” didn’t give it away, this was about ten years ago. I cared so much for this friend that I wanted to give an honest assessment of what he was offering. But after my thorough “honest assessment,” I was out.
And I’ve never looked back.
I’m convinced that “Network Marketing” schemes are evil; and in this article, I’ll give you four key reasons that I — as a Christian — cannot participate at all.
Why Network Marketing is Evil
Before we move on, I should define some terms here. The good kind of “Network Marketing” is positive word-of-mouth that is rewarded with no strings attached. For example, when my dad referred me to a car salesman he knew and trusted, the salesman sent my dad $100 in gift cards as a way of thanking him for the business. That’s not a scheme — it’s just good etiquette and smart marketing. The same can be said of “pyramid” programs that involve no up-front costs and allow people to freely participate without having to pay for or purchase anything at all.
The bad kind of Network Marketing — the “evil” kind, as I see it — is any system that promises all manner of success if you will simply buy into the program and start inviting others to join. These programs involve some sort of membership fee “that will be earned back once you bring two (or three…or five) people on board.”
In the context of this article, these are the programs that I’m talking about.
I also want to note that I’m not calling the participants in network marketing “evil” — only the system itself. Many of the participants are wonderful people who love Jesus and really want to help others. They just don’t realize that the system they’re using is built to fail and will inevitably ruin lives.
Here are my four reasons Network Marketing is evil:
1) The Relational Reason
When I said “no” to my old friend, that was the last I heard from him. I haven’t seen him or his audio tapes in about 10 years. As it turns out, I was nothing more than a dollar sign that wore clothes. Once he joined that program, the only thing he ever wanted to talk about was the “amazing opportunity” that he was “investing” in. He was no longer interested in relating on any other terms. The program had consumed him.
I don’t want that to happen to me. But even if it didn’t, it would likely happen to someone else who I roped into the program. I don’t want it to happen to them either, and I don’t want their problems to be my fault. It’s better to be drowned than to lead someone else into sin. (See Matthew 18:6.)
2) The Missional Reason
I’ve seen pastors and other Christians wrapped up in these programs. I’ve watched ministries fall apart. I’ve observed ministers whose Facebook updates went from good teaching and wise sayings to promotions to join their pyramid, and then to bad teaching and confusing sayings. In one case, a preacher I knew fell right off the map and is no longer involved in ministry at all, sadly wallowing in financial failure and searching for the next big idea that will set him free.
Network Marketing schemes ruin fellowship, discipleship, and evangelism.
They ruin fellowship for the “Relational Reason” I just presented.
They ruin discipleship because they can easily turn a spiritual relationship into a business relationship that is now tainted by money and coercion.
And they ruin evangelism because you have to decide which “good news” you’re going to share — the news about Jesus or the news about your “amazing opportunity.” And if you wait to share the marketing program until after the person is saved, then they will wonder if your motivation was pure or if they too were just a dollar sign.
For the Gospel message to truly be conveyed, it must be completely free from the appearance of ulterior motives. Grace is a free gift with no strings attached. Network Marketing schemes taint the message being conveyed through our lives.
3) The Moral Reason
The farther up the pyramid (or ladder, or web, or bubble, or tree, or whatever you want to call it), the more money you make. The opposite is also true. If you’re on the bottom tier, you make no money at all. In fact, since there’s always some sort of membership fee involved, you’re actually losing money.
That’s what motivates you to convince more people to join the program — you want to move from losing money to making money off of five or six people under you (who are all losing money… unless, of course, those five or six people can bring in five or six more of their own, for a whopping total of 25 to 36 people who are losing money while you make even more and your five friends start making a little).
Do you see the problem? The bigger the organization grows, the more people there are at the bottom of the pyramid who are losing money. If each person needs to reach five people to make money, things quickly balloon from one person losing money to five people losing money, to 25 people, to 125 people, to 625 people, to 3,125 people all losing money (and that’s as far as my mental math will take me). Thus the success of the minority depends on the fruitless loss of the majority. And that’s why the minority millionaires will go out of their way to “train” a hundred people in a hotel conference center.
I can’t morally bring myself to participate in an organization that preys on the poor foresight of thousands so that a few can make money off of their misfortune.
Using the numbers I just shared, suppose you need to bring in five people to “break even” on your membership fees. That means 3,125 people are losing money and 625 people are making no money (a whopping total of 3,750 people with nothing to show for their involvement except some nicely packaged audio tapes). At the same time, 125 people are bringing in a small paycheck — barely enough to cover the gas they use to bring friends to the hotel meetings. Finally there are the 25 people who are probably making $100 or so a month, and only one person who is making more…and that one person still isn’t making enough money to quit their job. (You need to rope in a few more suckers for that to happen.)
It is frankly immoral to promise wealth and success to people while knowing that, at some point, the “amazing offer” will reach a point of saturation in which no one else wants to join — leaving the vast majority of your “converts” (or their downlines) losing money.
4) The Spiritual Reason
I used the word “converts” on purpose. That’s what these programs generally require. You have to convince your friend that you have their best interests in mind; that the weight-loss formula, or energy drink, or legal services, or whatever, is the best product in the world; and that it’s worth eventually quitting their job over (even though that will probably never happen). Thus the Network Marketing scheme takes on the life of a cultish religion, complete with conferences and trainings where the “gospel” of wealth is preached unashamedly (sometimes with Christian undertones or even Scripture to justify it!).
Jesus was clear that “you cannot serve both God and money.” (See Matthew 6:24.) Money isn’t evil in itself, but it certainly can hijack God’s throne in your heart if you let it.
Those who are involved in these Network Marketing schemes are definitely serving money and not God (whether knowingly or unwittingly). I know this because they are ignoring the loss of money being suffered by the vast majority so that they can enjoy their own success.
As it turns out, the only way to succeed in a Network Marketing scheme is to turn off your compassion and thrive off the failure of others whom YOU convinced that they would succeed. You may not be doing it intentionally. You may truly believe that you have your friend’s best interests in mind. But such a system is evil by design, and God isn’t in it at all.
Is This Really Such a Big Deal?
I’m sure my usual readers are wondering why I would spend time on an article about Network Marketing on a blog that’s all about supernatural Christianity. The reason is simple: Many of us Christians are gullible. In some ways, that’s good because “love always trusts.” (See 1 Corinthians 13:7.) But in other ways, it’s bad because thousands of well-meaning Christians are being unwittingly sucked into schemes that prey on people just like them — all in the name of infinite, effortless wealth.
I know of a pastor who had many people leave his church after he convinced them to join a Network Marketing scheme that they all lost money on. I know of an evangelist who became so wrapped up in the scheme he joined that all his Facebook status updates changed from preaching the Gospel to making sales pitches. And then there’s the man I mentioned earlier who completely left ministry and sunk into depression and poverty.
Network Marketing schemes are toxic to healthy Christianity. They destroy meaningful relationships. They tempt us to value people according to how much money they can make for us rather than valuing them simply because God values them. They take us outside of grace and fill our hearts with sinful judgment and wealth-based priorities.
If you’re involved in a Network Marketing scheme, get out now. Even if you’re making money, some careers are just innately evil. I liken Network Marketing schemes to the pornography business. Both view people as objects who should serve you. There’s no redeeming either one.
And if you’re currently being “courted” by a Network Marketing convert, I would encourage you to share this article with them. It should help them understand why you’re saying “no.” And hopefully, it will rescue them from the same evil business.
It’s time to get this garbage out of the Church.
We have much better news to spread. The Gospel is the most “amazing opportunity” you can ever share. Let’s focus on that one.
Be blessed! –Art