The 12th annual Lifest has drawn thousands to the Sunnyview Expo Center in Oshkosh, Wis., for five days of music, messages, fun and fellowship despite the festival's latest controversy.
After kicking off Wednesday night with music from popular Christian artists Sara Groves, Mark Schultz, and Family Force 5, Lifest attendees will be rocking to the sounds of more than 60 groups and artists up through Sunday, including Casting Crowns, Newsboys, Rebecca St. James, Point of Grace, and Matt Redman, among others.
They'll also be listening to the words of over 40 speakers – the most notable being evangelist Luis Palau and the most controversial being progressive evangelical Jim Wallis, whose invitation to speak prompted at least one sponsor to pull out.
Though Wallis critics such as Crosstalk radio host Ingrid Schlueter have expressed their opposition to presenting Wallis as "a credible Christian leader," Lifest founder Bob Lenz has defended the decision to present him, saying Wallis, "as a person and brother in Christ, deserves to have his views shared."
"I don't want to fight, and I don't want to argue," Lenz stressed in a public letter released ahead of this year's event.
"My concern is that the people who have raised their voices the loudest are drawing attention away from the true purpose of Lifest," he said.
For over a decade, Lenz's Life Promotions has put on Lifest "to promote life in Christ and present the Gospel," though the festival is marketed to youth as "a place where youth can have the time of their lives."
Lifest features dozens of attractions, including sports, karaoke, a skatepark, a cybercafé, and marketplace. But festival promoters say it also offers activities that expose the Gospel to youth who wouldn't normally attend a Christian music festival as well as activities to help growing believers on their path of faith.
According to Lenz, the hope is to lift up attendees in their personal walk with God, their worship in life, and ultimately their service for God's Kingdom.
"I, myself, and Life Promotions, have always been about bringing people to Jesus, to preach the only Gospel: the life, death and resurrection of Christ, calling people to repent of sin and trust in Christ alone as the only way to eternal life," Lenz wrote in his letter last month.
As part of this year's festival, Life Promotions has helped organize a Luis Palau Outreach for Sunday, which the organization says may be the largest-ever held in the area.
"Palau's outreaches draw thousands across the country and around the world, and we're hoping to see more than 35,000 people coming together for this free event on Sunday at Lifest," reported Lenz.
Palau said ahead of the event that he wants to relay the message to young people that conversion to Christ "is a staggering event." Concerned about the reports he has seen about young people leaving the faith, the evangelist wants youth, especially those who grew up in the church, to remember what a "radical conversion" can do to them and how they can experience that change.
For the outreach, Life Promotions has contacted hundreds of churches in Wisconsin from varying denominations – several of which have adjusted the time of their Sunday services to get more parishioners over to participate in the outreach at Lifest.
The two-hour outreach event will officially conclude this year's Lifest.