- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 25, 2003

The Christian men’s group Promise Keepers says 10,000 men will attend its conference this weekend in Baltimore’s First Mariner Arena.

Called “The Challenge: A Call to Action,” the conference Friday and Saturday will include 17 hours worth of sessions.

Promise Keepers is best known for a Washington conference in October 1997 that attracted more than 1 million men to the National Mall. But the Denver-based group took huge losses due to budget shortfalls and a decision to not charge admission during 1998 and 1999. Attendance plummeted.

“It seemed like guys out there felt the value of our conferences wasn’t quite the same,” said Harold Velasquez, vice president of creative services. “The way guys are, they think, ‘If something doesn’t cost me, it must not be of value.’”

The fees, which were reinstituted in 2000, are $79 for adults and $59 for children. Because each seat costs Promise Keepers about $119, it has to raise the difference. Small donors provide $13 million of the budget; gate receipts and large donors make up the rest.

Due to the poor economy, Promise Keepers’ budget dropped $3 million to $27 million this year. About two dozen people have been laid off in the past year.

Nevertheless, the group is pressing on with 18 mens’ conferences this year, up from 16 last year.

“For years, the traditional church has tried to get men to wear a tie and sit in church and behave,” Mr. Velasquez said. “A lot of us could not wait to get out of there. Finding these “handles” for men is important for making a man’s faith fit into his everyday world.”

Speakers in Baltimore will include the Rev. Tony Evans of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in south Dallas; the Rev. Crawford Loritts, a Campus Crusade for Christ staff member from Atlanta; and Des Moines, Iowa, author Gary Rosberg, who sometimes brings his wife onstage and washes her feet to promote the idea of servanthood.

“A remarkable visual impression is left on the guys,” said Steve Chavis, Promise Keepers’ director of advance planning.

Branson, Mo., evangelist Joe White, who talks about manhood while constructing a 12-foot-high cross onstage made up of 8-inch-thick pine beams, will open Friday night’s session.

But the Baltimore conference will not include an appearance by Promise Keepers founder Bill McCartney. The former University of Colorado football coach is taking a leave of absence to care for his wife, Lyndi, who has a lung ailment.

Five cities have been added to the Promise Keepers’ lineup this year: Peoria, Il.; Lubbock, Texas; Jackson, Miss.; Albany, N.Y.; and Las Vegas. The organization estimates 200,000 men attend its events each year.

The organization has lightened up its approach in recent years, Mr. Chavis said.

“We are trying to have a little bit more fun and less guilt,” he said. “In the last few years, men have walked out of a Promise Keepers event feeling beat up about what they are not doing. So we’ve added to the program a young comedian — Brad Stine — who is as funny as anyone I’ve ever seen. In between his antics, he will drop these wonderful and powerful truths.

Mr. Chavis also said the mens’ group also has retooled its message to make it more male-specific.

“For years, the traditional church has tried to get men to wear a tie and sit in church and behave,” he said. “A lot of us could not wait to get out of there. Finding these ‘handles’ for men is important for making a man’s faith fit into his everyday world.”

Citing a survey from Baptist Press, both men said a typical church function will only get a response from 10 percent to 15 percent of the men.

“At Promise Keepers, it’s 100 percent,” Mr. Velasquez said. “Statistics tell us that if you reach a man, 93 percent of the time you reach his family. When a woman responds to an evangelist’s plea, 31 percent of the time the family will follow. If you reach a teen, 16 percent of the time the family will follow.”


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