Compassion Canada takes Jesus mainstream
By Josiah Neufeld | Friday, November 6, 2009
PHOTO: JOSIAH NEUFELD
LONDON, ONAbout 350,000 Canadians flipped open their October 5 issue of Maclean's magazine to learn that Jesus is the answer. To poverty.
Compassion Canada has never been in the closet about its evangelical focus, but the growing child sponsorship agency decided to take the closet doors off their hinges with a series of four-page spreads in one of Canada's most read magazines.
"Poverty has an eternal solution," declares the last page of the four-page supplement. "The difference is Jesus." It's stamped with a giant crown of thorns.
For $150,000 Compassion Canada gets three four-page supplements and three full-page ads in various issues of Maclean's. Each tells the story of a life changed through sponsorship and faith in Jesus Christ.
A few years ago Compassion Canada emerged from a strategizing session with seven key action points, says president and CEO Barry Slauenwhite. Clarifying the organization's message topped the list.
They picked Maclean'sbecause market research told them more evangelical Christians read Maclean'sthan most Christian publications.
"We narrow-cast to the evangelical audience," says Slauenwhite. Ninety-eight per cent of Compassion Canada supporters identify as "born again."
The idea is to distinguish Compassion Canada from other sponsorship agencies who focus primarily on physical aid rather than conversion.
"Our goal is not to feed that child and educate them, our goal is to bring that child to Christ," says Slauenwhite. "We do feeding, we do education, but that is supplementary to the original goal of evangelism and discipleship."
Children sponsored by Compassion Canada (about one million around the world) receive assistance through local churches. Each child is paired with an adult Christian mentor and comes to the church for after-school programming that includes Bible study.
Compassion Canada keeps track of sponsored children who choose to become Christians. "We know that just about every day of the year 500 or so children or young adults come to Christ," Slauenwhite says. "That's not important to other sponsorship organizations because that's not something they're strategically investing in. What is important is how many people got fed, how many wells they put in, and so forth."
Maclean'sdidn't bat an eye at the ads, says Aaron Armstrong, who planned the campaign. "They're not a afraid of controversy." Armstrong even asked Maclean's to keep him posted of negative feedback the magazine received. None so far. In fact, positive notes from supporters have poured in, says Slauenwhite.
"I'm prepared that we might lose sponsors over this," he says. "For me that's fine. If that's where we need to draw the line in the sand, I'm quite prepared to do that."