The story of Lausanne begins with the evangelist Dr Billy Graham. As he started preaching internationally, he developed a passion to ‘unite all evangelicals in the common task of the total evangelization of the world’.
In 1966 the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, in partnership with America’s Christianity Today magazine, sponsored the World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin. Shortly afterwards, Billy Graham perceived the need for a larger, more diverse congress to re-frame Christian mission in a world of social, political, economic, and religious upheaval.
A couple of months later, planning began for the gathering, which was to take place in 1974 in Lausanne, Switzerland. It was named the International Congress on World Evangelization (later called Lausanne 1).
In his opening address at Lausanne I, Billy Graham described four accomplishments he hoped to see:
- ‘I would like to see the Congress frame a biblical declaration on evangelism.’
- ‘I would like to see the Church challenged to complete the task of world evangelization.’
- ‘I trust we can state what the relationship is between evangelism and social responsibility.’
- ‘I hope that a new “koinonia” or fellowship among evangelicals of all persuasions will be developed throughout the world. I hope there will develop here what I like to call “the spirit of Lausanne”.’
He ended the address with the question ‘Why Lausanne?’ and a galvanizing reply: ‘That the earth may hear his voice!’
From this Congress issued the biblical declaration that Billy Graham had hoped for, The Lausanne Covenant, with John Stott as its chief architect. The Covenant was to prove one of the most significant documents in modern church history, and to shape evangelical thinking for the rest of the century.
The Lausanne Movement was birthed from the 1974 Congress, and Billy Graham’s phrase ‘the spirit of Lausanne’ gained currency as the way leaders should live and relate: it was, he said, a spirit of partnership, study, humility, hope, and prayer.