The Most Diverse Gathering Ever
The Lausanne movement's third global gathering will feature a younger, more ethnically diverse, and more geographically varied consortium of evangelical leaders than ever before.
The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, known as Cape Town 2010, will take place next month, October 16β5, with 4,000 leaders from 200 countries. Planners have made sure that 55 percent of participants are under age 50.
Billy Graham convened the first International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, in July 1974, drawing 2,700 evangelicals from 150 nations. The parley comprised mostly white Western leaders at a time when the massive growth of Christianity in the developing world had just begun. British pastor-theologian John Stott served as chief architect of the Lausanne Covenant, which resulted in multiple alliances and spawned many other conferences. The second gathering, held in Manila in 1989, drew an influx of attendees from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and also incorporated Pentecostals and charismatics.
This time around, Americans aren't dominating the behind-the-scenes preparation or the on-stage program. Only 5 of the 25 members of the congress's Advisory Council, which has developed a theological foundation and strategic vision for the event, are from the U.S.
Two-Thirds World Showcased
Program Committee Chair Ramez Atallah, general secretary of the Bible Society of Egypt, pushed for a discussion format of seating six attendees per table, discussing speeches that will be shorter than those from years past.
"We don't want people to come because of big names," Atallah says. "We're not choosing the stars of the evangelical world to speak. People coming to be entertained by great speakers and great music will be disappointed. They could get that sitting at home, watching television."
Executive Chair Doug Birdsall, an Asian Access missionary based at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, doesn't have the name recognition of his Lausanne predecessors. But he has painstakingly guided the event planning to include a cross-section of pastors, scholars, academics, missionaries, educators, and business leaders. Two-thirds of the speakers and presenters are from Africa, Latin America, and Asia, where two-thirds of today's evangelicals live.
"If it's the whole church, it needs to be people from north, south, east, and west," Birdsall says. "These leaders, carefully chosen from thousands of applicants, will represent the demographic, theological, and cultural realities of the global church."
Leighton Ford, program chairman for Lausanne 1974 and chair of ongoing committees 15 years later, says Americans will leave Cape Town understanding the importance of listening to and being helped by leaders from other parts of the world.
"Back then we thought we had quite a bit to give—and we did," says Ford, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and adviser for this year's Lausanne. "Now we have a great deal to receive. It's an attitude change that will result."
Atallah says Western evangelical leaders tend to be goal- and result-oriented, adopting a view of Christian work and life that mimics a business model. He hopes Americans focus on ministry relationships rather than donor responses.
"When Americans evaluate things, they do so from a grid that is counterintuitive to the New Testament," Atallah says. The grid "goes counter to the relational model that Africans and many other cultures espouse."
Birdsall says evangelism and social justice must go hand in hand. In light of pluralistic societies and the New Atheism, he says, Christians are more likely to embrace justice and mercy matters at the expense of the foundational truths that Jesus is the only way to God and that Scripture is the ultimate authority. It's never hard to find enough American churchgoers to build a house, but drawing interest in a Bible study is another matter, says Birdsall.