Did Jesus Invent the Pyramid Scheme?

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While the idea of a pyramid scheme may bring to mind shady dealings and unsavory characters, Stephanie Remington of the Lewis Center staff sees genius in the idea of building influence through friendships. She says utilizing our existing networks is a perfectly natural way to grow the church and identify new leaders — a method established by Jesus himself.


Ah, the all-too-familiar knock at the door that interrupted our Saturday morning cartoons. My dad could politely reject the vacuum cleaner guy without a flinch. But the Avon lady? My dad didn’t stand a chance. Why?

The genius of the Avon lady

The vacuum cleaner guy was a stranger. We’d never met him before and we would probably never see him again. But the Avon lady? She was a well-known member of our small community. She banked, retrieved mail, and dined at the same establishments we did. Her children and I went to the same school. Most importantly, she was my mother’s friend. With a rap at the door she marched right into our living room, took her familiar place in the recliner, and opened her Mary Poppins bag. I eagerly plopped myself down at her feet to discover what new thing had come in since her last visit as my mother fetched her a glass of iced tea. She would show us bracelets and necklaces and holiday pins that cleverly opened to reveal perfumed salve for fragrant wrists. She was a little girl’s fairy godmother because she always had a magical way of convincing my mother that she had just the thing we’d both been looking for.

The genius of the Avon lady’s success was not just in the bond of a single friendship. The genius was in the network of relationships that could be formed through one friend. You see, if she could convince my mother to sell the product, they would both receive free and discounted merchandise while at the same time earning commission. And if my mother could convince her friends to sell stuff to their friends, the Avon lady, my mother, and my mother’s other friends would all get more free and reduced products and earn even more commission. And on it goes until one has built an empire. We call this marketing strategy the Pyramid Scheme.

Was the original pyramid scheme Jesus’ idea?

While we might scoff at the idea of exploiting our friendships to make money or to get free stuff, I’m pretty sure the original pyramid scheme was Jesus’ idea. Check out John 1: 35-46 (NIV).

The next day John the Baptist was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.

The first friend is the base of the pyramid. Just as the Avon lady had a relationship with my mother, Jesus already had a relationship established with John the Baptist. John sees Jesus walking by and says to two of his own disciples, “Look! The Lamb of God!” Or in my translation, “Look! That’s the one who has just what you’ve been looking for!” So, what do the two disciples do? They follow Jesus and begin to learn his ways. Add a layer to the pyramid.

After some quality time of learning from Jesus one of the disciples, Andrew, becomes so inspired he decides he needs to tell somebody about it. The text says, “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’

And he brought him to Jesus.” Now Simon begins to learn the ways of Jesus. Add another layer to the pyramid.

The next day, Jesus ran into Philip and invited him to follow. Philip said, “Okay!” Hello, tier three. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one!” Nathanael was unconvinced, but because of his relationship with Philip he accepted the invitation to check it out anyhow. Despite his skepticism, Jesus reeled him in, too.

A natural way to grow the church

Now tell me Jesus isn’t the author of the pyramid scheme! Because here we are more than 2,000 years later, disciples of disciples of disciples, the ongoing koinonia or fellowship of Jesus continuing the mission of introducing our friends to Jesus.

Utilizing our existing networks to invite others to learn at Jesus’ feet is a perfectly natural way to grow the church and identify leadership for ministry. Christ’s church wasn’t born out of a vacuum; it was built out of relationships of friends who had friends who had friends who knew that Jesus had just what they’d been looking for.


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About Author

Stephanie Remington

Stephanie Remington is Research Manager of the Lewis Center. She is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and has more than 15 years of pastoral leadership experience in the local church.


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