About 140,000 people filled a downtown park in Portland, Oregon, for two days this past summer for music, food, face-painting, miniature golf, skateboarding—and to hear international evangelist Luis Palau preach the gospel.
Portland Festival 2000, the second Palau outreach in the northwestern state's largest city in two years, broke park records. It may also signal a change in the methods of mass evangelism. "The day of the traditional crusade may be over," says Palau, whose organization is based in Portland. "The message is sacred. The dress it comes in is unimportant, as long as it fits the culture."
Palau, 66, has shown a willingness to experiment with his presentation to fit changing cultural expectations. His "Say Yes, Chicago!" outreach in April and May of 1996 presented the gospel to 129,000 people at 75 events across the greater Chicago area (CT, April 8, 1996, p. 96). Although the crusade attracted fewer people than expected, the Palau organization was able to try different ways to draw people in.
Changing places, changing names
Lon Allison, director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, says Palau has "tweaked" an existing model that moves away from "classic crusade" evangelism. "The day of the evangelist being able to attract crowds to hear him or her is over—other than Billy Graham," Allison says. He praised the festival model for its ability to attract large crowds, including families, with less effort from participating churches.
But evangelism strategists wonder whether the festival model's activity-driven approach will draw the people who need to hear the gospel. "We're not sure we're really getting that many lost people to attend," Allison says.
Lyle Dorsett, professor of evangelism at Wheaton College ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.