If catch phrases motivate men, the Promise Keepers are trying their best.
Promise Keepers believe "real men matter," so they are vowing to give males "The Awakening —An Unpredictable Adventure" next weekend at Glendale Arena.
It goes with their mantra, "If you want to truly change the world, change the men." As many as 16,000 males could gather next Friday and Saturday for the first Valley gathering of Promise Keepers since 2003. Men and boys who attend will get 11 hours of intensive Christian teaching toward Promise Keepers’ mission: "Men transformed worldwide."
They’ll come bearing Bibles, pray with seat mates, lock hands together in praise and unity, and listen to preaching laced with language for the male mind. Some will respond to altar calls to accept Christ.
Glendale is the 16th stop in the 2005 circuit of 21 venues between Fort Wayne, Ind., on May 20 to the Bahamas on Nov. 12. Once known for filling football stadiums, but now only arenas, Promise Keepers challenges men to face their masculinity, the authenticity of their faith and character, and their ministry to wives and families.
"There are lots of guys out there who have never experienced this kind of spiritual infusion or excitement," said Steve Chavis, communications director for Denverbased Promise Keepers. Since its beginnings in 1990, the group has drawn about 5.6 million men to its events. The core of the gatherings, he said, is the sensory experience of light and sound, music and drama, and camaraderie with other men in the context of a large Christian event.
Dramas have been expanded for this year’s conference including a graphic skit featuring Phil Chapin of Chapin Break Free Ministries. In the dramas, Chapin is restrained by the chains of his life, including drugs, alcohol and abuse. To his rescue comes TV preacher Dave Roever with the liberating message.
Among others slated to preach are Ted Haggard, Wellington Boone, Samuel Rodriguez, James Ryle and Mike Silva. Promise Keepers drew almost 50,000 to Bank One Ballpark in 1999 and more than 16,000 to America West Arena in 2003. The organization typically alternates its Arizona conferences between the Valley and Tucson.
Tickets are being sold by telephone and online and will also be available at the gate. Attendees are asked to bring cases of nonperishable food for food pantries tied to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
Promise Keepers conferences have sold out this year in Orlando, Fla., Nashville, Tenn., and Mobile, Ala., Chavis said. The Southeast is the strongest region for the group, he said, noting that the "guys in the West are a little more laid-back . . . We have to work harder to get guys organized and make sure they know about it and bring friends and guys to the meetings."
Conferences these days typically draw fewer men than in the 1990s, said Pastor Pete Morgan, Promise Keepers’ church relations volunteer coordinator for the Glendale event. "They used to be 50,000 to 70,000 men. They have been trimmed down, but the show has been made quite a bit better," he said.
Morgan, who has attended Promise Keepers conferences since 1996, will have enlisted about 700 volunteers for the two-day event — "300 of those are recruited at the gate as the men come in," he said. They will be given ushering assignments.
The men who come to the conferences, Morgan said, include men who are active in church men’s programs and those from congregations without much to offer men.
"There are lots of churches that have absolutely nothing," he said. "There are what we call ‘feminine-based churches.’ They have a lot of programs for women and nothing for men — maybe a yearly brothers retreat."
About 200 women will serve in volunteer roles for conference, but women are not banned from participating in the conference.
"If a woman really wants to come, she can come," Morgan said. "We ask that she sits somewhere so that she is not out in the open. It’s not like we keep women out. It is just that this is a venue that is being oriented toward a specific purpose and reason."
"The best way to get guys to let their hair down is have the wives leave. . . . It is not keeping women out. . . . It allows men a place where they feel comfortable to open up," he said.
From its beginnings, Promise Keepers has been sharply criticized by women’s groups, especially the National Organization for Women, which has called it a "surreptitious campaign for male supremacy" and "mobilizing men against the rights of women, lesbians and gays" and blaming "women’s equality for society’s ills."
Chavis said too much as been made of that criticism.
"That was always overplayed," he said. "The support we receive from women in the volunteer ranks, our donors and women actually buying tickets for their husbands have been incredibly encouraging, so those few critics have overstated the case."
"When we teach men to respect women and to lead by example and to invest in their families and spiritual lives, we get nothing but rave reviews," he said. "Women appreciate men who keep their promises."