Musical expressions spanning from southern-fried rock, to smooth soul, to explosive hip-hop swirl through a crowd of over 150,000 Seattle residents nestled within the spacious Marymoor Park on a beautiful summer afternoon. Opposite the stage, professional skaters perform death-defying stunts in front of teens accented by multiple piercings and an arsenal of tattoos. Add a vintage car show, roaming illusionists and costumed cartoon characters to the fold and either Washington state is throwing the year’s biggest bash, or a high-priced, multi-artist concert overtook the park. Surprisingly, neither is the case. The Luis Palau Evangelistic Association is the culprit, using this activity cavalcade in its latest outreach plan.

A Brief Background

From Monterrey, Mexico, to Rosario, Argentina, to Sheffield, England and most recently Seattle, Palau has incorporated such mammoth, free festivals into his always expanding ministry repertoire, which from his humble beginnings of preaching on street corners to hosting daylong stadium crusades has spanned 37 years in 70 nations, with over 790,000 making faith commitments. While this résumé looks impressive, by the turn of the new millennium, American audiences were growing less receptive to Palau’s stadium-styled method, expressing interest, instead, in a more cutting-edge approach. “In 1998 we were invited to host an outreach in Portland [Ore.], but by then our original crusade model just wasn’t working in the States,” recalls Palau with his distinct accent. “We started to get the feeling that setting up in a stadium with one or two contemporary bands and having me give a message was becoming passé, and [that realization] caused us to re-evaluate the way we did things.”

Keeping Up with the Times

For this energetic 69-year-old preacher from Argentina, adapting with the times to be more effective and culturally relevant for young people is something he embraces willfully. Along with the staff of the L.P.E.A., Palau carefully researches the needs of each region that’s invited the newly formatted festival-styled crusade to their neck of the woods, crafting each experience to break down non-believers’ stereotypes of Christians.

“This generation has so many hindrances when it comes to their opinion of believers, preachers and the church in general,” confirms college pastor D.J. Vick at Eastside Foursquare Church in Bothell, Wash., who participated in last summer’s event, dubbed the Puget Sound Festival. “That’s why the Palau organization literally throws a free party as a chance for them to hear and potentially accept the salvation message.” 

The Role of Local Churches

Once a festival city is booked by the L.P.E.A., the organization tag teams with local churches to not only ensure an appropriate setting but also pool volunteers to assist with the event’s coordination and operation. Besides encouraging parishioner involvement, much of the festival’s success hinges upon the participation and unification of local churches, regardless of their varied backgrounds. “I’ve noticed that in every festival city that I’ve been involved with, there is always an overwhelming display of cross-denominational unity,” observes tobyMac, a frequent festival performer. “We have to acknowledge that it’s not only the Palau team that raises awareness, but it’s the churches that get their people excited about it.”

Besides the common ground the festival provides, overall audience turnout is based largely on those churches’ ability to invite non-believing friends and family members. “It’s all about encouraging believers to reach out to the unchurched [for] relational evangelism,” notes Luis’ son Kevin Palau, executive vice president of the L.P.E.A. “No matter how much someone is moved by the festival, nonbelievers won’t experience the follow-up they need without a body of believers around them."