August's FESTIVAL MANCHESTER will be a Christian event of truly epic proportions. Tony Cummings spoke to the visionaries behind it, Andy Hawthorne and Luis Palau.

Phatfish
Phatfish

For every lover of contemporary Christian music the prospect of the forthcoming Festival Manchester is a truly mouthwatering one. Here is an event where a huge PA and a huge crowd (up to 50,000) will party to the musical delights of TobyMac, Tait, The Tribe, LCGC, Phatfish, Yfriday, Andy Hunter, Matt Redman and Christian pop stars still to be confirmed. But Festival Manchester, scheduled to run from 25th to 31st August, is much, much more than another manifestation of the Church Having A Good Time. It is an event with the potential of sweeping tens of thousands into God's Kingdom and in the process irreparably change the very cultural fabric of the UK's fourth largest city. Festival Manchester is a gigantic undertaking with a staggering 1.7 million budget and a multi faceted focus making it the biggest ever evangelistic initiative conducted in Britain. During the week communities throughout Manchester will welcome thousands of teams of young people willing to put the Gospel into action. These Festival Action Teams will get their hands dirty with hundreds of social, environmental and crime reducing projects. Then at the weekend the city's Heaton Park will be transformed into a huge, free outdoor Festival where huge crowds will gather and, alongside the bands, evangelists Luis Palau, Andy Hawthorne and others will preach the Gospel. Palau and Hawthorne are the visionaries behind this most extraordinary of missions.

Andy, known to all Christian music lovers for his pioneering role in founding The World Wide Message Tribe and today heading up The Message Trust, spoke about the birth of Festival Manchester which very much grew out of the things God did at the joint The Message/ Soul Survivor initiative Message 2000. "We felt like God had done 10 years' work in 10 days with Message 2000 and we are still reaping the results of the amazing things God has done. Some of the churches what were planted as a result of The Message 2000 are some of the most exciting places I know. The church in Swinton Valley, the church in Openshaw, plus dozens of other things which came as a result, new youth groups etc. So it was a weird time afterwards because there was so much focus and so much energy. About three or four months after Nigel Gordon, who heads up Luis Palau, sent us a video of a festival that Luis Palau had been doing in the States. Basically they had reinvented themselves. They had been doing campaign evangelism - come to a football stadium and hear Luis like the old style Billy Graham Crusades. But now they're doing something very different. Luis is really a fascinating guy. He is a hardcore evangelist. I have never known anyone who is so utterly focused on the lost, he just loves to preach the Gospel. I saw the video of Luis' festival and the scale of it and I love Christians doing such things of excellence."

The Argentinian-born evangelist took up the story. "We do not call them crusades anymore. I used to call them that because Billy Graham did and it was so effective and I learnt everything I know, humanly speaking, from Billy Graham. Now we call them festivals; firstly because that's what it is; there is a lot of music, a food court, a children's area with balloons and clowns and Veggie Tales and a children's evangelist who talks to them in a language they can understand. At the other end of the park we will have a skateboarding exhibition area that we build. Some of the world's biggest skateboarding champions happen to be very severe followers of Jesus Christ and they will come and talk and give their story about how they met Christ. So we found that by taking it away, even from the stadiums, which was good in its day; going to the parks, going by the river front, going to the beach, like in Florida, we could connect with thousands of people. We have contemporary music which is what young people like. So it has an atmosphere which is so different, yet the basic Good News is always presented clearly. I would never go back to the old model, it was great in its day but this is a new day. These new festivals are a wonderful approach for this generation." After the success of Message 2000 and its astonishing success in reducing crime levels in one of Manchester's most notorious estates, the police have thrown themselves unreservedly behind Festival Manchester. Recounts Andy Hawthorne, "It has gone to another level. Four thousand of the workers on Festival Manchester will be on police crime reduction projects right across the city. I mean we keep having meetings with the police and apart from opening and closing with prayer, it is quite extraordinary. We have got policemen who are not Christians saying, 'You are going to plant a church on the back of this aren't you? We need this thing to be on-going and you are going to get your bus in there to make sure it is all followed up. ' It is just amazing! There is a wonderful Christian policeman working virtually full time on Festival Manchester and right from the top down they are supporting us. We have been invited to make this big bid to the Crime Reduction Budget so we hope money will come from that. It is just right across the area; God is really at work in the police force."

Andy went through some of the logistical arrangements of the huge undertaking. "We have got four 4,000 seat marquees which are going to be up five days before the big weekend. So the people camp in Heaton Park then they will be bussed out to these four venues which are north, south, east and west of the inner city. From there a thousand from each 'hot zone' will be working in the close locality just blitzing the area; cleaning it up, removing the graffiti, doing the gardens, whatever we can do to bless those communities. Everyone from those communities will be invited back then to the marquees for massive evangelistic gigs in the evenings. So we are going to have four of those going on at the same time and the other 6,000 delegates will be bussed out into hundreds of local church projects right across the City. "We are spending 125,000 on the publicity campaign this time so we are going to have bill boards, radio and TV ads, plus of course all the other stuff we are going to get through churches. We really want to get the attention of the city. We are dreaming we will get 50,000 people a day, that is what I would love to see in Heaton Park, which we have not seen before, but we have got all sorts of creative ideas. We are having the biggest skate park Manchester has ever seen, with the world's top skateboarders coming. We have got an 'extreme' and 'vintage' car show, funfair and food court. It is a massive thing for the whole family and then the focus of the attention of the day comes with the stage programme. We are working really hard to get the best Christian bands but not just Christian bands who are only known in the Christian scene, but people who will draw a crowd; and it is going to be an absolutely clear proclamation! We are hoping to have a massive prayer tent where people can be prayed for, plus we will have a tent where people are getting saved all day long. It is going to be totally unashamed proclamation, but in an environment of a huge party! I have seen a little taste of it in the States, it is amazing. There is a big kids' area as well - to see all the little kids giving their life to Christ; and they open the gates of the skate park and all the moshers in the skate park give their life to Jesus; and you know there is the main stage where thousands of people are coming to Christ - it is something else! It will be really amazing!"

Andy Hunter
Andy Hunter

The final word on Festival Manchester was from Luis Palau "I expect, under God, that much of the UK will be fascinated in what is happening in Manchester. They will see this model of festival outreach, of Good News, as a way forward for the next 20 years in all of the UK. I hope there will be great changes in the inner city crime reduction. One of the goals of the Good News, that is why I love the combination, is to reduce crime, to create goodwill in the community, to help single mothers and widows and divorcees who suffer the consequences of that trauma; to help them lift up their life and their hope. We hope that Heaton Park will be jammed with people of all ages. We have emphasised youth but this is also for grand parents who love young people and of course for parents, young people and children. We believe Manchester will respond. Until now it has been quite amazing. We would ask all your readers to pray to God that Manchester will be changed for good." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.