Good time religion
By SHERRI DAY
Published March 2, 2007
For weeks, the image of a smiling Luis Palau, a 72-year-old evangelist dubbed the Latin American Billy Graham, has appeared on billboards, yard signs, Internet ads, handbills, banners and bumper stickers.
Organizers of the evangelist's two-day festival, which takes place Saturday and Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, also have bought radio spots, television commercials and movie trailers at local theaters. In all, they've spent $300,000 to advertise.
The goal: draw tens of thousands to Christianity. Palau, however, will speak Saturday and Sunday sans suit, minister's robe or imposing pulpit.
"When people come, we don't want them to feel there's any other motive than just simply presenting the benefits of Christianity," said festival director Randy Burtis.
How much does it cost?
The event - and parking - is free. Organizers do not collect offerings during the festival, leaving churches, businesses and individual donors to stage it.
What's on the agenda?
Everything from a sports zone, with skateboarding and BMX riders, to concerts. Check out www. tampabayfestival.com for more details.
Is it only for the religious?
The festival seeks to celebrate the Christian lifestyle and introduce nonbelievers to the faith. But people of all faiths are welcome, organizers said.
How many people will attend?
Organizers expect crowds of 60,000 to 80,000 people a day based on festivals held in similar-sized cities.
What if it rains?
"When you do an outdoor event of that size, there's just no Plan B," Burtis said. But "we've never canceled."
Does the festival take place in other cities?
The Palau organization puts on four to six festivals each year in the United States and abroad. The party goes to Monterrey, Mexico, in March and Nashville in May.
The lineup includes: Wynonna Judd, TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, P.O.D., Chris Tomlin, BarlowGirl, Marcos Witt and Mandisa from American Idol. Indianapolis Colts' coach Tony Dungy will be the event's honorary chairman and will speak. Late last week, Dungy said he would likely draw his comments from Matthew 16:26, which warns against gaining the world and losing one's soul. "We're kind of at the top of the mountain professionally, and we've accomplished so much as a team," Dungy said, referring to the Colts' recent Super Bowl win. But "if that's it and your spiritual life is not together, it's not going to last and it's not going to profit you a whole lot."
By the numbers
550 Number of churches from the bay area, Sarasota and Bradenton involved
8,000 Number of volunteers
$2.8 -million Cost to put on the festival
225,000 Number of people who attended a festival in Houston in 2006