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Multi-Level Marketing

Cards on the table: I believe everyone needs Jesus. 

And not just from a soteriological standpoint—though I do believe that but honestly not sure how it all works out in the end (which is another topic for another time)—but simply that life is better with Jesus.


Shuffle the cards and lay them out again: I also believe that after Worship, it is the second critical mandate for the Church. That is, sharing the Truth with others about the One who claimed to be the Truth. Oh, and also the Way and the Life.


But the dilemma is always: how? And because we Americans are all about “best practices” and “effectiveness” and “deliverables”, what’s the most efficient way to do that?


Back in the day, it was Coleman’s classic book, “The Master Plan of Evangelism”: essentially, make disciples who make disciples one-on-one. The implied multiplication sounds remarkable. Problem is: as appealing as the one-on-one approach is—which I subscribe to and love as well—the win-the-world-in-one-generation challenge hits some mathematical impossibilities.


Last week I stumbled across an anti-multilevel marketing (MLM) blogsite—don’t ask why—that happened to bemoan the extravagant promises of Mary Kaye. I have nothing against that particular company (are pink Cadillacs still a thing?), but more about the MLM-approach and the giant sucking sound you hear when you get close to them. One new MLM fanboy can decimate a small group in a month.


Anyway, the blogger did the math that MLMs preach for each person's recruiting strategy:


“So let’s say the number of new recruits doubles every 6 months. Of course, if everyone recruited two people within the first 6 months, the real doubling time would be shorter than that . . . How long do you think it would take before there were more consultants than customers?”


“Luckily, this is easy to figure out. The number of things you end up with after doubling a population (n) times (starting with 1) is 2 to the power of (n).


—  2 to the power of zero = 1 (round zero = the first guy.)

     —  2 to the power of 1 = 2 (the first round of doubling)

     —  2 to the power of 2 = 4 (the second round)

     —  2 to the power of 3 = 8 (the third round)


“Since I have a fair sense of what that kind of growth looks like, I’m going to start with a guess. Let’s try 2 to the power of 32. According to my calculator, that’s about 4.3 billion. If each round takes 6 months, the 32nd round happens after 16 years. That’s 4 billion people recruited at year 16 + 2 billion people recruited at the 15½ year mark, + 1 billion people recruited at the 15 year mark…


“Oh wait. That’s 7 billion (and we haven’t even counted them all.) The population of the world is 7.9 billion, so we’re just about out of people.”


You get the gist. I’m comparing MLMs to the sometimes overstated promises of the disciples-making-disciples system. Of course I’m not against it. But let’s be honest: the problem is people. People are always the problem: not everyone is going to follow through.


That’s why leaders recognize the need for multiple ways to reach people with the Good News—and that includes invitational environments, culturally-aware contexts, varieties of formats for different personality-types, different tools and processes, encouragement and training, and on and on. Let’s not just think out-of-the-box, let’s gather lots of boxes that let us think inside and outside.


One size doesn’t fit all. Bottom line: have at least one kind of system to start with. Any system is better than no system...and then expand from there. 



Dave Workman | The Elemental Group


The Elemental Churches Inventory guides your leadership team through a multi-faceted review of strengths and opportunities in four vital elements of your church’s life: Integrity (systems, processes, infrastructure), Passion (commitment to the mission), Servanthood (outward-focus), and Imagination (innovation, openness to change). And because of its unique web-based and curriculum approach, it’s a third of the cost of typical consulting!


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