Correction to This Article
A Sept. 29 article on DC Festival incorrectly said that former Navy secretary John H. Dalton is the event's fundraising chairman. He is the festival chairman. The fundraising co-chairmen are Vince Sedmak and Bob Woody.

Playing Up Party Instead of Pulpit

By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Mall soon will be suited up for another showcase event. This time, the trappings are a skateboard park, a food court, dozens of volunteer stations, two huge tents for hundreds of celebrity guests, three JumboTron screens to project onstage musical performances, and banners bearing the names of such corporate sponsors as Amtrak and the Washington Capitals.

What those watching the preparations will not see is any clue -- not even a simple cross -- to suggest the real nature of the gathering: broadcasting the message of Jesus Christ.

DC Festival, on Oct. 8-9, is the latest production of Oregon-based Christian evangelist Luis Palau, who has been drawing large crowds since introducing his concept of "festival evangelism" six years ago.

The event, in the making for two years, is being supported by nearly 900 Washington area churches. Organizers hope to draw as many as 200,000 people over the two days, which would make the $3.4 million affair the largest religious assembly on the Mall since an estimated half-million attended a Promise Keepers rally in 1997.

Palau's goal is to attract the secular-minded and unchurched, particularly young people. In what might be called stealth evangelism, his festivals offer no displays of religious symbols, no robed choirs, no clergy onstage, no solemn Bible readings or long-winded prayers.

Instead, DC Festival will feature top-flight Christian contemporary musical acts. Stars of extreme sports will demonstrate their skateboarding and biking skills, as well as talk about their Christian faith. Faith-based "VeggieTales" actors will entertain children.

"There will be something for everybody," Palau spokesman Craig Chastain said. "We want the community to see that the church can throw a good party."

But the party will have a point. In the late afternoon both days, Palau will deliver his evangelical message, which will climax with an invitation to listeners to commit their lives to Jesus. He will ask those who want to do that to raise their hands, which will be a signal to the 3,500 trained "counselors" stationed in the crowd to approach them and answer questions.

The event -- which has the slogan "Great Music! Good News!" -- will be the Washington debut for Palau, who has held more than a dozen such festivals in other U.S., European and South American cities. Long known as a top preacher in the Latino world, the Argentine native has become widely recognized in Anglo evangelical circles with the success of his festival approach.

Scott Kisker, professor of evangelism at Washington's Wesley Theological Seminary, calls Palau "the person who is arguably, in mass evangelism, the successor to Billy Graham."

Palau, 71, who worked for Graham before stepping out on his own, comes out of the same evangelical tradition "where people are invited by friends to hear a presentation of the gospel where they don't have to go to a church," Kisker said.

But while Graham's crusades have been held in stadiums and have offered one style of music and one preacher, Palau's events are in more-open venues and feature various musical styles and gospel presentations by actors, singers and athletes.

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