You're probably reading this and thinking "there's no connection" or "What?!"
That's right, I'm talking about Churches and MLM /Pyramid Schemes. The connection between the two is bigger than you think.
Since I can't do a pyramid here, I'll do four lists. Three for church, as there's an important point that the second one will link to that I discuss later.
Example of MLM/Pyramid Scheme pyramid:
Double Presidental Diamond
Double Blue Diamond
Typical Protestant Church leadership pyramid:
Non church members
Church friendship hierarchy:
Pastor's or minister's friends
Associate pastor's or minister's friends
Church members friends
Non church members friends
MLM/Pyramid Schemes Church Friendship hierarchy I've experienced:
Pastor's friends: a clique and are the most important group in the church.
Associate pastor's friends: a clique that is below that, but has members in the elite group
Elders friends: a clique that is below that of associate pastor's friends, but still has people that are members of the elite and AP group.
Deacons friends: a clique that are below Elders, and may or may not be members of other cliques
Church members: a group of people who are generally friends with everyone else in the above groups, but aren't grouped as being part of their close friendship cliques.
Non church members: people who are new to the church, who may be oblivious to the cliques that are going on.
Now that we have these pyramids/lists, let's talk about the fourth one in relation to the MLM at the top. Usually, with MLM/Pyramid Scheme pyramids, you have to DO certain things in order to level up. Sign people up, buy a required amount of products, present and do classes or meet ups, recruit some more.... And, if you watch the John Oliver segment on MLM on YouTube, you'll find out some hard truth about things regarding places like NuSkin, where 93% of all active distributors don't make any money from it.
So, here is what happened in the church I was at that echoed the MLM/Pyramid Schemes in how these friendships worked. In order to "level up" in the friendship pyramid you, generally, had to:
Be a Christian or become a Christian
You have to be at a lot of events church puts on.
Teach as many people as possible about the Bible and bring in people to join the church (see how it's similar to MLM/Pyramid Scheme already?)
Have the time to come to as many extracurricular activities on the weekly basis. (I gave up on dance classes I am in now and love them).
Be friends on Facebook so that people can keep up with you, or sometimes, to pay things relating to God on your wall, or to track what you're saying on FB.
Stay as positive and God focused as possible.
And quite a few others. And as you move up through this Multilevel Marketing style friendship pyramid, you get showered with attention, love, care, and people actually notice if you aren't there.
Now, if there's something that prevents this process from happening, such as:
Mental health problems
You just stop pursuing it
You quit a few activities in favour for something else
You begin to go back down the friendship ladder, you begin to not be spoken to, you begin to feel isolated and lonely, and in case of mental health problems, you go to extreme lengths to regain these friendships, even if you feel it triggers you.
And even if you pick up the chase again, you might NEVER recover these close knit relationships you've had. And in my experience, you pursuing the close friendship again, people in lower or higher friendship ranks than you were might see you as being inappropriate.
So, the pyramid scheme church friendships exist. And they are dangerous to vulnerable people. For vulnerable people, these friendships (once they end or downgrade) can be damaging to a person's confidence, a person's sense of self, a person's sense of belonging, and have long term consequences on how people perceive themselves and relationships as a whole. This friendship pyramid scheme costed me my ability to cope with relationships with people, being able to be in a large group of people without panic attacks, nightmares, hallucinations, emotional regulation and it nearly costed me my therapy sessions if I followed through suggestions to quit from a few Christians.
This pyramid scheme/MLM friendship hierarchy is not what children should be taught. Children in such churches will learn that friendship is all about doing as many things as they can in order to be able to cling onto relationships desperately, rather than teaching them that if a friendship is becoming unhealthy, it might be best to leave it or work it out without pyramid scheming the whole thing.
And the NuSkin 93% statistic is helpful to demonstrate the result of church friendship pyramid scheme, as I believe 93% of people in the pyramid race for friendship are nowhere near the cliques at the top of the pyramid, but many from that 93% of people want to be there. But the chase is hard and is so incredibly easy to lose.
There's my take on this issue, and it needs to END. Church shouldn't be all about trying to be friends in order to be supported without conditions. Instead, the support should be unconditional and available to all equally. NOT only to people in the cliques. And people in the bottom two may be ignored when in real need of help, because people in the cliques come first. And to the people in the cliques, it's not "first come, first served basis." it's in the order of how important you are to the clique.
If church is like this, RUN. Run for the hills and don't look back. Your sanity will thank you later.