Promise Keepers isn’t dead. In fact, I hope it lasts until Jesus comes. However, few things do.
The truth is, I believe Promise Keepers will go down as one of the Top 5 Movements of God in the 20th century. No matter where Promise Keepers is on the spectrum of sustainability, one thing nobody can argue is that PK is not what it used to be. And, Christians globally shouldn’t see that as a failure. My gosh, could anybody honestly say PK was or is a failure? No way.
That being said, the brutal facts are this: things change. Our country isn’t even the same America as it was on the day that Coach McCartney hosted the first Promise Keepers event.
Since God called me into full-time ministry in 1991, I’ve had my eyes and my heart attached to creating ways men could connect with the God that made them. Promise Keepers as a movement was coming onto the landscape with booming volume about the time I entered ministry. I’ve personally attended many PK events over the years, and as time went on, it was easy to see that Promise Keepers was struggling.
From a men’s ministry standpoint, I believe there’s a lot to be learned from PK’s rise and fall; and by fall, I don’t mean fall to the point of no longer in existence, but rather that it’s had significant decline which can be super teaching points if we look closely.
My main filter for this conversation is this: what can the Church and men’s ministry leaders everywhere learn from what has happened with Promise Keepers?
God Used Promise Keepers To Reach Men Because The Church Was Failing At It
Honestly, nothing has really changed there. The church still is failing to reach men. However, there’s a prophetic trend at play here if you look closely.
In the 60’s and 70’s not every church, but most of them, rejected the idea of reaching out to the Hippie Movement. Hippies were an abomination to God, so thought most church-goers, so they were left to their heathen ways. So, the Jesus People Movement sprang up, doing the work of the Church for the churches in North America.
In the 1980’s the churches primarily left university students out of the picture, once again saying to students “we’d love to have you come to our church, on our terms, of course.” So, Campus Crusade For Christ and YWAM came on strong. Yes, both movements began years earlier, but they saw major growth in the 80s because the church wasn’t doing it.
Enter the 1990’s and you see Promise Keepers hit the scene. Why? Same reason. The church wasn’t reaching men. So, God used a football coach to do it.
Every time a major movement like YWAM, Campus Crusade (now called Cru), and PK hit the national conversation, churches would suddenly “wake up” to the issue at hand, and more and more people would see Christ at work within both churches and the movement itself.
We can learn more from PK, though, about how men think in terms of engaging God. How I wish churches everywhere would think this through because the principles are timeless.
Promise Keepers Used A Visual Gospel.
If you’ve ever attended a PK event, then you know that PK engaged men through the use of powerful media that spoke the language of testosterone. From the promotional material, to what you saw in the events themselves, Promise Keepers came at men in the best and most effective way they could: through a man’s eyes.
If you want to get to the heart of a woman, go through her emotions. If you want to motivate the heart of a man, you go through his eyes. When a man can see it, he can believe it. PK tapped into this like a boss.
Promise Keepers Didn’t Castrate The Message
PK events, the speakers, the banners, the videos, and everything in between used testosterone to its advantage. John Eldredge, in his book Wild At Heart, brought this issue front and center when he called out church leaders everywhere for “domesticating” men.
PK didn’t do that. PK took masculinity head on in everything from how to tackle personal debt, pornography, fear of failure, and countless other topics that surround the world that men live in both then and now.
PK speakers were not sissys. They would say it, that is, whatever needed saying, they would say it. You didn’t have to wonder what most of them were trying to say. They came at you head on, and men responded. Why? Because cowardice never motivates men to greatness. And neither does being soft. PK wasn’t soft.
So where did PK start the downward trend? That’s tough to answer because only those closest to the steering wheel could speak with authority. There’s a super article from the Hartford Institute by John Bartkowski that speaks to some of the issues that’s worth reading if you want to dig deeper.
Speaking as someone who has been a men’s ministry consultant for many years now, here’s some of my insights on what churches, and men’s ministry leaders can glean from PK’s rise and decline.
Promise Keepers Never Could Download Their Energy Into Churches
One of the greatest complaints that pastors had during heyday of PK was usually spoken something like this, “My men go off to these PK rallies, and they come back all fired up, but it fizzles out and things go back to normal. Why can’t they lead with that sort of energy here?”
Honestly, I think the answer to that has to do with the previous points made. Churches weren’t speaking the language of men. Go into any church today, and what does it look like? Pottery Barn. Flowers everywhere. Formal furniture.
Churches have the look and the feel of a safe place to be with your emotions. Contrast that with Bass Pro or Cabela’s. I don’t need to say anything else, right?!
Even still, right or wrong, no matter who is to blame, PK never found a conduit that could translate their energy into the church.
Several years ago I was on an elk hunt with one of the few founding members in Promise Keeper’s leadership. I talked with him about this, and he agreed wholeheartedly. I could still hear the pain in his heart over this issue coming through his voice.
Promise Keepers Never Created A Sustainable Model For What Happens After The Event
For the last 12 years I’ve spoken at hundreds of men’s ministry conferences, rallies, and events. I think churches are just as guilty of the same failures that brought PK down into decline. Churches employ men’s ministry strategies that are 90% “event-driven.”
Events are super. Men love events. The problem is, if you live off of events, you’ll die from events. PK taught us this. Their events were not “home run” events, they were “grand slam” events. PK events were straight up awesome. And that’s the problem. When you create mountaintop experiences, there’s only one way to go from there.
Creating a grand slam event filled with quality wasn’t PK’s problem. That was a win.
Where PK lost is that they never emphasized discipleship models with the same energy and hard dollar investments that they put into their events.
Churches that host wild game dinners do it all the time. I might speak to a group of 1000 men at a wild game dinner several times a year at various events, but when I ask the men who coordinate the event to tell me about their ministry to hunters, they don’t have an answer.
Men’s ministry leaders have got to learn to create specific ministry design models that use events as conduits, not explosions. There’s a thousand ways to do that, but the problem is, that’s not how most men think. The event is their answer to ministry, and that’s what will kill them within the short future.
The bottom line for us as church leaders is this: churches as a whole can take a lot notes on what Promise Keepers did to be used by God to reach men. Those same churches can flip some of PK’s short-comings into victories if they’d only be willing to put in the investment with men.
Jason Cruise is a published author and speaker. He is the host of Spring Chronicles on Sportsman Channel.
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