Multilevel Marketing (MLM) as a means to direct selling may not be as popular in 2022 as in previous years, but according to sources, at the end of 2020 the U.S. direct sales industry saw revenue of $35.2 billion. While there seems to be little statistical information on the number of MLM participants who claim a Christian belief system, there is data that corroborates that many MLM businesses have on some level, Christian principles at their core. For example, Thirty-One Gifts, a distributor of bags and accessories, is described as a faith-based company “offering you the opportunity to own your own home business….”
While there is obviously nothing inherently wrong with selling as a vocation or selling to people you know, most would likely agree there is an issue when personal relationships are used to build personal wealth. At the very least, those relationships may segue from being comfortable and warm to awkward and aloof.
Jesus spread hope, love, compassion, and care through relationships with others. He is our supreme example of how building community is essential to conveying the gospel message. When the basis of our relationships appears to have ulterior motives, transparency is veiled, and the means to show others we truly care about them is tainted.
In a recent article on The Gospel Coalition website, Will Anderson, church planting resident at Southlands Church in Orange, California made these personal observations:
I’m good at avoiding marketers, especially the clipboard-wielding variety who guard the grocery store entrance, but there’s one tribe of recruiters I can’t seem to evade: Christians in multilevel marketing (MLM). Masters of initiating friendly conversations, they’ve pitched to my wife and me in some uncanny locations: coffee shops, farmers markets, at lunch after church, even while coordinating an outreach event with a nonprofit.
Recruitment is integral to MLM. Existing members must build a large team (called the “downline”) because their salary comes from collective earnings. Recruitment isn’t intrinsically wrong, and sales is a respectable profession when done with integrity. But Christians should be careful and thoughtful about everything we do.
MLM in the Church
What concerns me is how Christians in MLM sometimes co-opt biblical lingo to justify questionable ideas and methods. They often use verbiage that projects MLM as not only admissible within the church, but beneficial.
Colossians 2:8 warns about hollow philosophies that pose as holy. As Randy Alcorn writes: “Often, the most effective appeals to the flesh are made under the guise of the Spirit.”
Like testing a $100 bill, every philosophy must be held up to the light (Scripture). Let’s examine some key talking points used to propagate MLM in the church, parsing the validity (or invalidity) of these ideas.