Sleeping on a dragon's hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself." — C.S. Lewis (The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader")
"The Calormens have dark faces and long beards. They wear flowing robes and orange-colored turbans, and they are a wise, wealthy, courteous, cruel and ancient people. They bowed most politely to Caspian and paid him long compliments all about the fountains of prosperity irrigating the gardens of prudence and virtue –and things like that– but of course what they wanted was the money they had paid." — C.S. Lewis (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)
Do you know about "the best opportunity in the world?” Dateline NBC did an undercover investigation of this business opportunity four years ago and discovered the secret to why it truly is so great for those on top, whom we shall call “kingpins”. It’s a business most are familiar with; however, what most don’t know is that there’s a hidden business within “the business”. Surprisingly, it’s not concealed from the distributors at all, but they don’t seem to question who profits from this separate business because they are so mesmerized by the kingpins, hoping to aspire to the higher levels. We encourage you to watch the following eye-opening documentary — “In Pursuit of the Almighty Dollar”.
One of us has extensive knowledge of this business and believes the investigation accurately reflects what is going on behind the scenes. In fact, she knows most of the “kingpins” on stage. Funny, she never learned about this business model when she was in the Executive MBA Program at UNC-Chapel Hill.
It’s extremely important to remember that there are two businesses operating simultaneously. The “front business” is called Amway; however, it used to be called “Quixtar” after it was called Amway. The “hidden business” is NOT operated by Amway at all. It's a separate business owned and operated by a kingpin distributor. Guess what products they sell? Books, CDs, seminars, conferences, etc.
If you have ever been to a recruitment meeting, you probably heard the line: “We don’t make money until YOU do.” Is that statement accurate? It’s true with regard to the front business (Amway) but untrue with regard to the hidden business. When the recruited distributor starts buying resources such as CDs and books and begins attending conferences, the kingpin distributor and his lieutenants are making money whether that distributor sells any products or not.
The BIG money makers for the kingpin distributors are conferences (usually called functions). Typically, there are four major functions per year (and a myriad of smaller functions as well). In the past the major functions have been called “Dream Night” (held in January), “Spring Leadership” (held in April), “Family Reunion” (held in the July), and “Free Enterprise Day or F.E.D.” (held in September). The names of some of the functions may have changed, but they are still held quarterly. The ticket price (per person) to attend one of these conferences is in excess of $100, maybe even as high as $120-$150, depending on the conference. That does not include food, lodging, or transportation. Remember — Amway Corporation does not collect a dime from these conferences or other resources. The conferences usually begin on Friday evening and go through Sunday morning, when the kingpin distributor shares the Gospel with the audience. Thousands come forward when the invitation is given. Everyone goes home pumped (with lots of resources they have purchased at the function), and they are ready to recruit new distributors to the greatest opportunity in the world! After all, God is blessing it, right?
The kingpins are smiling all the way to the bank! It’s not unusual for 10,000 distributors (or more!!!) to attend one of these functions. Let see . . . 10,000 x $120 = $!,200,000 in gross ticket sales. Not bad for Friday night, all day Saturday, and Sunday morning!!! The kingpin, who is perched at the top of the pyramid, filters his earnings down to his lieutenants (leaders at the lower levels) who recruit/coerce their downline to attend these conferences. Here’s the typical sales pitch: “If you don’t attend this important function, your business will be six months behind where it could be if you went. You can’t afford NOT to attend!” Much pressure is applied to get everyone to the big functions.
Now let’s apply this knowledge about Amway to what some are calling the best church in the world – Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). Didn’t know that about SGM? This “family of churches” is far superior to YOUR church (if you’re not in SGM). Just ask any loyal member. The faithful often post comments on SGM Survivors and SGM Refuge stating that SGM is absolutely the best church out there PERIOD!!! C.J. Mahaney calls it “the happiest place on earth”. As you can see, this attitude permeates the hierarchy from the top down. (Think: PYRAMID, and not the Stargate kind).
While neither of us has actually been a member of Sovereign Grace Ministries, we have learned a great deal about this “family of churches”. Here’s what we theorize. SGM churches are the “front business”, just like Amway. They probably operate as any normal church does with the revenue coming from contributions. From what we can determine, SGM members are sacrificial givers, so most of them probably “tithe” (give 10%). While we are on the subject of tithes, each SGM church contributes a portion of contributions received to SGM headquarters. We believe the amount may be as high as 10 percent.
During our investigation, we read how SGM churches operate their own bookstores, so we had to check it out for ourselves! We visited an SGM church, and incredibly the bookstore is front and center as you enter the church lobby. It was filled with books by C.J. Mahaney, his wife Carolyn, Joshua Harris, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Randy Alcorn, Mark Dever, Al Mohler, etc. Are any of these names sounding familiar? They are all part of the “Calvinista” movement. A church member was stationed at the cash register both before and after church. During the “meeting” (church service) the books were roped off. As first time guests, we were given a packet of information about SGM which included a coupon to receive a free resource from the bookstore. Each of us chose the book Humility. It seemed like the appropriate book to select. We assume that this is the “hook” to encourage attendees to visit the bookstore again and again and again in order to buy MORE BOOKS! While we recognize SGM’s not so hidden business – the bookstore — we don’t know who profits from book sales, but SOMEBODY definitely does!!! If you can't shop at your local SGM church, you can always visit the SGM Online Bookstore at this link:
The lucrative kingpin business model could easily be applied here. C.J. Mahaney (the SGM kingpin) sits at the top of the business, and the pastors could be his lieutenants. It’s a clever scheme. Why go and buy those books at a Christian bookstore?
Next, there are all those SGM conferences. There are pastors conferences, conferences geared toward the younger generation, conferences for worship leaders, regional conferences such as The Summit Men's Conference, etc. etc. etc. For example, the Sovereign Grace Pastors Conference took place at Covenant Life Church April 6-8, 2009. Then the NEXT ’09 Conference was scheduled during Memorial Day weekend at the Baltimore Convention Center. We checked the ticket prices online, and they were comparable to the ticket price for an Amway function. Remember, this does not include food, lodging, or transportation. If you missed NEXT '09, don't worry… you can make plans to attend WORSHIP '09, scheduled for August 5-8 at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. To order your tickets, go to this link: http://worshipgodconference.com/register/ Here, you will find the following information regarding ticket prices (food and lodging are not included):
Cost (until April 1):
Students (college and below) – $85 Groups (5 or more) – $110 Individuals – $135
April 1 – May 31:
Students (college and below) – $110 Groups (5 or more) – $135 Individuals – $160
June 1 – July 22:
Students (college and below) – $135 Groups (5 or more) – $160 Individuals – $185
And if you really wanted to attend the Pastors Conference in April but missed it, you can always attend the Together for the Gospel Conference (a reformed conference that spans various denominations) coming up next year in Louisville, Kentucky. There you will hear FOUR Calvinistas — Al Mohler, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, and C.J. Mahaney. It seems that everyone's getting in on the act — SGM and non-SGM Calvinistas alike – – and selling their books at the conferences, too. The secret's out!!! The SGM Pastors Conference and Together for the Gospel Conference alternate so that there's always one available EACH year. It's important to stay connected and keep the money rolling in for the Reformed Big Dogs!
Conferences, conferences, conferences . . . Have you noticed this trend in Christendom? John Piper held a conference last weekend called Advance ’09. Approximately 3,000 people attended, and ticket prices ranged from $100 to $120. Mark Driscoll, who spoke at the Advance ’09 conference, had planned to hold a “Song of Solomon” conference at a nearby church. His speaking times at these two conferences were orchestrated so that there was no overlap, but for some strange reason, the Song of Solomon conference was cancelled. Apparently, there was a scheduling conflict after all… (See our series on Mark Driscoll.)
As we have been monitoring the SGM Survivors blog, one commenter recently provided a clue that a hidden business exists in Sovereign Grace Ministries as well. He indicated that in a year's time he spent over $10,000 on SGM related activities and resources, and this amount DID NOT INCLUDE his tithe. Hmmm…
Just yesterday, this same blogger gave us a glimpse into the lifestyle of kingpin C.J. Mahaney. Take a look at this excerpt from his comment: "Remember in 2007/8, CJ purchased a $700k home, no mortgage, and gave his son-in-law (a SGM pastor) his former residence, a $600k home". Seems that the self-proclaimed "prophet" now spells his title this way: "profit".
To top it off, SGM targets where it plants churches. There are approximately 75 SGM churches worldwide at the present time. What are the criteria? The most important factor seems to be “median household income”. What does that have to do with sharing the Christian faith? It seems that in order for a cog in the SGM wheel to function properly, the members need to be able to sustain the ministry, as the above blogger has indicated. The families need to be able to "tithe" and afford the books, other resources, and conferences that SGM offers.
It really is a clever marketing scheme. . . Kris over at SGM Survivors posted an interesting article entitled: "SGM 'New Testament' Church Or Modern Day Corporation?" Here's the link:
Kris has raised an important question which ABSOLUTELY needs to be addressed. As Jesus proclaimed: "You cannot serve both God and money." (Matthew 6:24 NIV) Unfortunately, some Christian leaders appear to be doing just that.