By Bill Fledderus. Reprinted with permission from the July/August 2003 issue of Faith Today.
A "Christian Maclean's magazine" was the goal that founders of Faith Today aimed for, a glossy calling card and point of unity for the burgeoning evangelical movement in Canada. The first issue appeared in 1983. Canada at that time was enthralled with movies such as E.T.: The Extra-terrestrial and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and the country had just repatriated its Constitution and adopted its Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In terms of Christian institutions, that was a few years after Trinity Western attained university status and David Mainse began broadcasting 100 Huntley Street, and a few years before the Vineyard Christian Fellowship Churches and ChristianWeek began. The evangelical sector of the Church in Canada was growing dramatically, especially among non-Anglo populations such as Chinese and francophone.
Faith Today in its early days had a staff of three, and its publisher worked from a tiny borrowed space with two typewriters. Brian Stiller, director of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), had recruited editor Lori (Mitchener) Gwynne from Trinity Western to create a more attractive successor to EFC's previous publication, a quarterly called Thrust.
The EFC had been a small, volunteer-run association of 20 denominations. Since its founding in 1964, it had slowly grown to have an annual budget of $175,000.
In the next 12 years under Stiller's leadership it would double in size, hire at least a dozen full-time staff, and adopt annual budgets of two million dollars. It was an era in which evangelicals and Canadians more broadly began to recognize the significance of evangelicalism in the country, a realization capped off by a cover story in a 1993 Maclean's magazine. "God Is Alive" declared the Maclean's headline, and writers mused on its pages over the results of a new poll that suggested 15 percent of the population was "evangelical."
The Stiller era was also one in which evangelicals collectively began to look outward: they began to feel the secular drift of Canada's institutions, and to realize they needed to be more involved. Instead of seeing evangelicalism in Canada as an arm of the Religious Right based in the United States, Canadians began to realize that yet another stereotype adopted from American media didn't fit the reality in this country. And finally, individuals began to see themselves as part of a movement that went beyond individual denominations and instead encompassed a wide swath across the entire Church.
Faith Today was part of all this change, monitoring it, tracking it and sometimes pushing it from the unique perspective of an insider aspiring to objectivity.
Larry Matthews, who has been involved with Faith Today for many years as a writer, advisor and briefly as editor (1999-2000), describes that perspective this way: the magazine has always had to "balance its close ties to the EFC with its role as a journal for the wider evangelical constituency. That tension is not something to be resolved, and in fact can be a productive place to be.
"Faith Today does not exist to push out the boundaries, but it has not been afraid to shine a light in the darker corners of evangelicalism. It exemplifies a mixed impulse characteristic in broader evangelicalism: to truth and to public relations at the same time. In a community that sees itself somewhat on the defensive or under siege in society, it's not surprising that it can feel like disloyalty when someone calls attention to internal issues."
In other words, Faith Today has sometimes upset its readers in the short run but tried to serve their best interests in the long run. Topics controversial in broader Canadian society such as euthanasia, abortion, AIDS, poverty, pornography, homosexuality, and abuse have all received extensive coverage in the magazine alongside fare more oriented to Christian families and church leadership: topics such as education, worship, parachurch ministries, interdenominational cooperation and evangelism.
The first controversy with the magazine was an image on the cover of the first issue: it features a picture of an actor, nude from the waist up, who portrayed Gandhi in a popular film. The intention was to symbolize the concept of leadership, the focus of the articles in that issue, but for some the lack of dress was more controversial.
Editors Audrey Dorsch (1986-1995) and Marianne Meed Ward (1996-1999) firmly established plucky reporting as a hallmark of the magazine--albeit usually with slightly tamer photos than that initial cover. To get such reporting, they also invested a lot of energy into raising the quality of writing among Canadian Christians. They accomplished this in their daily interactions with a wide variety of writers, and also through founding and administering writing conferences for Christians. Such conferences become so successful that the small magazine staff could no longer manage them alongside their magazine production work. Thankfully, an independent institution, The Word Guild association of writers and editors, formed in 2001 to take over and expand that mandate--with great success.
To pay for all the expenses of publishing and mailing, Faith Today has always sold subscriptions and advertising. The first issue cost $13,000 to produce, compared to a typical $23,000 in printing [and delivery] costs alone today.
Magazine staff no longer need to take turns using the typewriters, either. The Internet has allowed operations to be widely dispersed. Advertising sales are conducted by Brian Shephard from Barrie, Ont. Editing is done in Markham, Ont. by staff who maximize work time by occasionally telecommuting from homes more than an hour's drive away. And printing of the 20,000 copies per issue is done in Winnipeg, Man. by Transcontinental Printing. [Editor's note: Printing has since switched to Dollco Printing, Ottawa.] Add to these the always changing network of freelance writers, based across the country in a variety of church sectors, and the national scope of the magazine's work becomes evident.
Managing editor Gail Reid (2000-) has broadened the magazine in several ways. She has sought to broaden its audience among "people in the pews" without losing the many ministers and lay leaders who subscribe. Similarly, she has put greater effort into including evangelicals who worship in mainline denominations. Reid has also broadened the magazine's mandate to include more inspiring and equipping content in addition to the usual news and information. She has also steered the magazine through the shoals of publishing on the Internet and distributing through secular magazine newsstands.
Among Reid's future goals: developing an even wider readership, since so many potential readers still have not heard of the magazine, and developing deeper relationships with sectors of the Church that appear infrequently in the magazine.
Initial sales reports from mainstream magazine retailers show that Faith Today can stand on its own in terms of attracting and satisfying readers. But as a quick glance at the EFC's mission and vision statements show, the magazine's work continues in harmony with the EFC's vision of "bringing Christians together for greater impact in mission, ministry and witness."