(RNS) WASHINGTON -- When evangelist Luis Palau enters the main stage at his"DC Festival" on the National Mall Oct. 8-9, he won't be the sole messengerof the gospel.

Instead, he will continue a team effort his ministry has successfullyestablished in other American cities, moving away from the centuries-oldcrusade model made famous by Billy Graham.

Christian celebrities are part of the plan to combine fun and faith in aparty-like atmosphere. They include actor-turned evangelist Stephen Baldwin,gospel artists CeCe Winans and Steven Curtis Chapman, skateboarder ChristianHosoi and surfer Bethany Hamilton.

"They're all giving short messages with an opportunity to surrender toChrist," Palau said in an interview. "The message is sacred. It neverchanges. ...The only difference is the delivery system for thisgeneration."

The 86-year-old Graham has defined large-event Christian evangelism witha fabled career that presents the gospel in stadium crusades. Palau -- ayouthful 70 -- has reached millions of people featuring a slogan of "GreatMusic! Good News!" It has been so successful in attracting young people thatsome see it defining evangelism in the early part of this century as Grahamshaped it in the 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 April Lundholm don't even picture him when they think of hisfestivals.

"I caught the end of him, I think," said Lundholm, a teenager whoattended the August 2004 Twin Cities Festival in Minnesota. "But I reallycame to hear (the Christian band) Third Day."

The Luis Palau Evangelistic Association, based in Portland, Ore.,doesn't rely on celebrity to carry the Christian message to people acrossthe United States, said Kevin Palau, executive vice president of theorganization and the son of Palau, a man frequently called "The Billy Grahamof Latin America."

"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.

The upcoming Washington event will feature sports demonstrations, achildren's area, a food drive and a health fair. Bob and Larry, the popularcharacters from the VeggieTales children's series, and a family-friendlyventriloquist named Mark Thompson also are scheduled.

Since 1999, when Kevin Palau first advocated for this festival approach,there has always been a professional-sized skate park, a place wherenational champions of the once grunge sport of skateboarding perform.

More than 850 churches in the District of Columbia, Maryland andVirginia are expected to spark a turnout for the latest version. Organizersexpect a wide range of people to be drawn to the event, where they willlikely spend much of their time walking around the lawn of the National Mallrather than sitting in the stationary seats of a stadium-based crusade.

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  • "It's both a strength and a weakness," acknowledged Luis Palau aboutthe format. "The strength is that people feel free to come, hang out, moveon if they want to. ...It's more normal, family-centered. It's easy toinvite friends."

    But tallying up those who respond to the dozen or so invitations to"surrender their lives to Jesus Christ" is more difficult.

    "I would say that we only get to talk to 50 percent who actually said,'I gave my life to Christ,'" the evangelist said.

    The festival concept has appealed to corporate and community leaders,Luis Palau said. He finds it's easier to get churches to cooperate with thefestival idea. Corporate sponsors, who now fund about 15 percent to 20percent of the costs, lend legitimacy.

    "It was not so much for funds but to make it a community festival, tolet the community know, look, these are normal people," the evangelist said."They're not weirdos with some extremist views hiding in a cave doing somemysterious religious rite or something. They're just regular people who eatat McDonald's and drink Coca-Colas and drive Chevrolets."

    Despite the changes, Palau festivals are rooted in an approach thatbuilds on Graham's legacy. After all, Palau got his start in U.S. evangelismin the 1960s when he worked with Graham in California. A decade later, theBilly Graham Evangelistic Association helped Palau start his ownorganization.

    "I follow in his steps with humility and gratitude and trying to pick uppart of the mantle because his son Franklin has picked up the big one," theyounger evangelist said. "Nevertheless, his model is an ideal model for amass evangelist: integrity, the humility, the persistence, the sticking withthe basics and not ever switching the message even one iota. That is what Ihope to transmit to the next generation myself."

    Palau's organization is now packaging its Christian message with asports-themed DVD, "Livin It." Released in March, the disc has its ownnational tour, which concludes at the DC Festival. Baldwin stars in thefilm, but skateboarders Hosoi, Lance Mountain and Ray Barbee have taken themessage to mini-festivals in cities across the U.S. A sequel DVD, "Livin It-- LA, is scheduled for release in March.

    All of this innovation makes sense within the history of Christianoutreach in America, according to Bill J. Leonard, dean of the divinityschool at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. He's an expert onAmerican evangelism.

    Palau is doing what preachers like George Whitefield, Charles Finney,D.L. Moody and Billy Sunday did in this country from the late 18th centurywell into the early 20th century, he said. "They're bringing the Christianmessage out of the church and into the culture."

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