Party Hearty Luis Palau Festivals Create New Evangelism Model
April Lundholm, 16, showed up for the bands. The skateboarderswere great. And the best part?
"It didn't," she says, "feel like church."
The suburban Minneapolis teenager is describing a Luis Palau Festival,an evangelistic outreach that is attempting to recast the revival experiencefor a world in which music and sports are the currency of communication.
The 86-year-old Billy Graham has defined large-event Christianevangelism with a fabled career that presents the gospel in stadiumcrusades. Palau -- a youthful 70 -- has reached more than 4.4 million peoplewith a party approach to evangelism featuring a slogan of "Great Music. GoodNews." It has been so successful in attracting young people that some see itdefining evangelism in the early part of this century as Graham shaped it inthe latter part of the last century.
Gone is the term "crusade" and the series of testimonials leading to asingle climax -- an altar call from the featured evangelist. In fact, eventhough Palau, a native of Argentina, draws tens of thousands to revivals inLatin America, Eastern Europe and Asia, he's not at all troubled whenteenagers like Lundholm don't picture him when they think of his festivals.
"I caught the end of him, I think," said Lundholm, who attended anAugust 2004 festival in the Twin Cities. "But I really came to hear (theChristian band) Third Day."
Future festivals are scheduled for June 24-25 in Madrid, Spain; July 23in Bend, Ore.; and Oct. 8-9 in Washington, on the National Mall.
The Luis Palau Evangelistic Association, based in Portland, Ore., doesn'trely on celebrity to carry the Christian message to people across the UnitedStates, says Kevin Palau, executive vice president of the organization andPalau's son.
"You know, a Billy Graham Crusade is an event. A happening. No matterwhat the generation," Kevin Palau said. "We are not Billy Graham. But we doshare the passion to reach the unchurched, so we had to change."
A Palau Festival looks more like a fair or street party than atraditional revival. In a few blocks around the statehouse in St. Paul,Minn., organizers erected food booths, small venues for professionalathletes and their sports franchises and a space for the family-orientedVeggie Tales characters. There was a main stage for bands.