Guideposts magazine, with one of the largest circulations of religious or secular publications, is one of the best kept secrets in religious publishing, says its editor, Van Varner.
In March, Guideposts, a non-denominational magazine founded by the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, achieved a record paid circulation of over 4 million.
That, in Varner's estimation, is something of a 'minor mira:le' for a magazine that does not accept paid advertising and is not sold on the streets.
Magazines similar to Guideposts in that they carry no advertising include Consumer Reports with a circulation of 3.1 million, Billy Graham's Decision magazine with 2.6 million, and Sesame Street magazine with 1.5 million.
The format is similar each month: a celebrity, an athelete, a businessman or a housewife is featured on the cover and inside, across three or four tightly written pages is the person's story, usually a tale of faith active in overcoming adversity and always told in the first person.
'There is no story where we're not trying to help the reader,' Varner said in an interview. 'Out of everything, out of every story must come something that helps the reader.'
'Because they are true, our readers can connect what happens in them to events in their own lives,' he adds.
Founded in 1945 by Peale and his wife, Ruth Stafford Peale, as a four-page leaflet, the magazine has evolved into a 48-page, four-color disgest-sized magazine.
Its first cover story was by Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker. More recent cover stories have featured Gen. James L. Dozier, kidnapped by Red Brigade terrorists in Italy; actor Cliff Robertson; football star Herschel Walker and actress Lillian Gish.
There are some things one doesn't find in Guideposts.
Politicians are one and controversy is another.
'Using politicians just opens up too much partisanship,' Varner said. 'We try to stay away from anything that suggests taking sides.'
So too with political issues like abortion.
'We won't carry anything about abortion. Nothing controversial. Nothing political.'
'But we're not a religiously namby-pamby publication, but a faith-filled magazine that is up to date,' Varner said.
'Were up-to-date and topical,' he adds, pointing to stories on teenage runaways, anorexia and agoraphobia and the anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge.
'I believe in variety and topicality,' Varner said. 'But we don't preach. We tell stories.'
The essence of those stories is that people get by, perhaps get more than just by, when they live out their faith.
'And we're going to help show you how,' he said.
The magazine has also spun off a number of other ministries, Varner said, lumped together as 'Guideposts Outreach Ministries.'
They include a prayer fellowship, a round-the-clock telephone inspirational message service, a Braille, large-print and cassette service to the blind and sight-impaired and a 'church award' program that gives an annual $5,000 grant to a congregation that developed an unusually imaginative and helpful church or synagogue program.
'I tell my writers,' Varner said, 'to go for the story, to forget about God and religion. He's there and if the story is good, it will show. God is in all of us and in extreme situations he is certainly there.'
For Varner and the reader's of Guideposts, that is no secret.