Luis Palau had hoped to attract tens of thousands of people to the Memorial Day finale of his innovative eight-week Say Yes Chicago crusade in Grant Park by Lake Michigan. With an all-day outdoor festival featuring musicians Steve Green and 4 Him, Palau planned to reach the Windy City masses, following in the steps of Dwight L. Moody in 1893, Billy Sunday in 1918, and Billy Graham in 1962 and 1971.
Despite nearly three years of preparation, Palau could not predict Chicago weather. Because of a driving rain, blustery winds, and temperatures that hovered near 50 degrees, dozens of churches canceled bus trips to the May 27 event.
But even in perfect weather, mass evangelism faces stiff competition in today's culture. Regardless of the preparation, a crusade in a sprawling region populated by 7 million people is a daunting prospect--especially when the public's attention is captivated by the winningest season ever played by a National Basketball Association team, the Chicago Bulls.
A NEW MODEL: Before coming to Chicago, Palau realized the challenges and and prepared for them, embarking on an evangelistic experiment with his Say Yes Chicago campaign. Rather than holding a concentrated series of meetings at one location, Palau spread the events out over nine regional sites, six of them in the suburbs. He preached 26 night meetings, including 17 in the city. The stadiums and auditoriums for the crusade, which came in under budget at $2 million, usually were far from full.
In all, Palau spoke at 75 meetings in 57 days. The 55 speciality events--businessmen's breakfasts, women's luncheons, youth nights--drew the most receptive audiences, including 18,000 at the Rosemont Horizon to hear the Newsboys, an Australian Christian band.
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