CAPE TOWN, South Africa – Mission-minded evangelicals from around the world were in high spirits Sunday as the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization got underway in Cape Town, South Africa.
More than 4,000 Christian leaders have convened at the Cape Town International Convention Centre to discuss the most pressing challenges facing the global church and world evangelization today.
Welcoming delegates to the Congress, Lausanne Chairman Doug Birdsall said he was looking forward to seeing what God would do in the coming days.
"We have become fragmented again and to some extent we have lost our focus," he told delegates. "Here, we are on the precipice of what we trust will be God doing something great in our time."
Birdsall thanked God for the leadership of Billy Graham and John Stott, two of the founding fathers of The Lausanne Movement, but also spoke of his hope for the future of world evangelicalism.
"We are not here to relive the glory days of previous years but to say 'God do something fresh in our times,'" he said.
"We ask [God] to do something wonderful in our midst during these days."
The discussions at Cape Town 2010 will build on decades of dialogue among evangelicals under the banner of The Lausanne Movement.
The first Lausanne Congress on world evangelization was convened in the Swiss city of Lausanne in 1974 by Billy Graham and produced one of the most important documents in modern day Christianity – the Lausanne Covenant, crafted by Stott.
The momentum for joint evangelism created by Lausanne I gave rise to The Lausanne Movement, an international fellowship and network of evangelicals united in their mission to see "the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world."
In 1989, evangelicals met again for Lausanne II in Manila in 1989, a congress that led to the creation of over 300 new partnerships and initiatives.
Organizers hope Cape Town 2010 will give rise to a fresh impetus for evangelism among Christians. Delegates at Cape Town will spend the coming week discussing world evangelization in relation to issues like the uniqueness of Christ in a pluralistic world, mission among people of other faiths, and the integrity of the Church. The conference will end with the release of a statement on the nature of the Church today.
"Evangelisation is the one task which we are united in and determined to do as a result of this time together," commented Blair Carlson, director of Cape Town 2010.
Cape Town 2010 is the first Lausanne Congress to go viral, with up to 200,000 Christians expected to participate online.
In a further effort to involve evangelicals around the world, regional congresses will run parallel at "Global Link" sites in 97 countries.
Delegations from other Communions and traditions are also present at the Congress.
The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, delivered a greeting to the Congress on behalf of the world's ecumenists.
He praised evangelicals for their "strong commitment" to evangelism and spoke of their shared calling in mission.
"We are called to be reconciled so that the world will know that God reconciles the world to Himself in Christ," he said.
"The needs of the world for reconciliation with God, with one another as human beings and with nature, these needs are too big for a divided church," Tveit added.
The Congress will get underway formally with an opening ceremony and celebration Sunday night.