Festival con Dios is Christian music's traveling circus. Unique in the Christian contemporary music world, it combines a festival mentality with a rock tour's mobility. A 12-band bill, motorcycle stunt shows, games, and bungee jumping attracted 108,000 people in 33 cities during last year's debut tour.

The second round of the for-profit road show began last month. Founders say the goal for 2001 was perfecting the model and building an audience. Now they hope to step up its evangelistic outreach through a partnership with the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association (LPEA).

"We hope people realize that this should be taken out of the category of strictly an entertainment ministry to believers, and viewed as an outreach to unchurched kids," said Kevin Palau, LPEA executive vice president. "We are confident this is another way to reach people."

David Olmsted, associate director of the Billy Graham Center's Institute of Strategic Evangelism, says this approach is a potent wave developing within American evangelism.

"We are in a time where we have an audience that is changing and needs exciting action events, like eye-popping stunts, to be drawn to a message," Olmsted told Christianity Today. Though this trend of "using intriguing events to set the plate for the evangelist to give the message" is not new, he believes for the next couple of decades it will "set a framework. … on how to go about the work of the proclamation."

Spreading out the Cost

In the mainstream market, mega-festival tours such as Ozzy Osbourne's Ozzfest and Van's Warped Tour receive money from corporate sponsors. With corporate backing less common in Christian tours, a festival is typically too costly for most local concert promoters.

"Everyone wants to have a festival, but you usually do it [only] once, because it will cost three times what you thought," Festival con Dios founder Wes Campbell told ct. "Festival con Dios has enabled markets to take on an all-day festival, but the cost is spread across a number of cities. It's franchised, and it arrives in a box."

Campbell, longtime manager of the Newsboys, and the group's singer, Peter Furler, designed Festival con Dios to be affordable and easy to set up. Festival con Dios provides everything from stages to concessions to a climbing wall and sloppily dressed rock bands. Tickets cost $20, and about 3,500 attended each concert. The festival made a profit from last year's operations, while other festivals folded.

Years on the road with the Newsboys gave Campbell's First Company Management experience in streamlining production methods. The festival uses hydraulic stages that only a handful of workers set up in five hours and dismantle in two. (Some traditional stage setups take days, requiring as many as 50 workers.)

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Campbell, a former youth pastor, believed the event had greater evangelistic potential after he took an evangelist on tour last year. He says the event is a hip entertainment option that provides opportunities for Christian kids to engage in relational evangelism.

"Of course the vast majority will be kids from youth groups, but we know that people will bring friends," Kevin Palau said. "Only good can come from us presenting the gospel and giving it a shot."

The Palau partnership provides the tour with two independent evangelists from LPEA's training-oriented Next Generation Alliance. LPEA, which has no financial interest in Festival con Dios, also coordinates training of counselors and post-event follow-up.

Extreme Evangelism

LPEA switched from a crusade model to a musical festival formula in 1999. Festivals attract 10 times the crowds of previous Palau crusades. The Puget Sound Festival in Redmond, Washington, attracted 150,000 in August.

A similarity between the completely free LPEA community festivals and Festival con Dios is the use of extreme sports, skateboard parks, and Christian bands to attract teenagers and young adults.

Olmsted said content is more important than how the gospel is presented.

"No one organization has the right answer on the proper method. But they all agree on message," he said. "The delivery of the message may change a little bit depending on the target audience."

Related Elsewhere

The Festival Con Dios official site includes the 2002 schedule and more information on artists.

The Luis Palau Evangelistic Association website has information on its festivals, Festival Con Dios, and a wrap-up of the Seattle Puget Sound Festival (with photos.)

Other Christianity Today articles on Luis Palau ministries include:

Downtown Evangelism Makes a ComebackLuis Palau "tweaks" crusade model into evangelistic festivals. (Dec. 21, 2001)
Crowds Exceed Palau's ExpectationsAdapting technological methods developed earlier by Billy Graham's Global Mission, Luis Palau preached to more than 600,000 Egyptians last month in the country's largest evangelistic outreach in modern history. (April 27, 1998)
Palau Crusade Last in Hong Kong?Evangelist Luis Palau, holding the last evangelistic crusade in Hong Kong before the British colony reverts to Chinese sovereignty, preached a message of hope to those facing an uncertain future. (May 19, 1997)
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Palau wrote "Which Part of the Great Commission Don't You Understand?" for Christianity Today in 1998.

More articles on the LPEA's Puget Sound Festival include:

Seattle festival draws record crowdsChristian Times
Christian fest hopes to skate into kids' livesThe Seattle Times (August 15, 2002)
Christian event expected to draw up to 100,000The Seattle Times (August 18, 2002)

For more coverage and articles on Contemporary Christian Music, see our music archive or the Christianity Today International online Music Channel, which has artist profiles, album reviews, and more.

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