Promise Keepers is an international Christian organization based in Denver, Colorado USA that describes itself as dedicated to introducing men to Jesus as their Savior and Lord, then helping them to grow in their personal Christian faith. This is mainly accomplished through their Seven Promises and men's conference ministry, supplemented with their own products.
The Promise Keepers organization was incorporated as a nonprofit in the state of Colorado in December, 1990. Its founder and original president was Bill McCartney , then the head football coach at the University of Colorado at Boulder. McCartney resigned his coaching position in order to focus his attention on the new organization.
Promise Keepers is a nonprofit, "501(c)(3)" organization in the United States. It is not affiliated with any Christian church or denomination. It promotes teachings some construe as socially conservative and openly teaches that men should be leaders and responsible providers in their families. Promise Keepers does have a constituency favorable to political conservatism, though as a US 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization it cannot publicly favor one political party or candidate over another.
Their most widely publicized events have been mass rallies held at football stadiums and similar venues. They also sell a variety of promotional products to "help men keep their promises", including clothing, books, and music. Dr. Bruce Wilkinson developed the widely used video curriculum, Personal Holiness in Times of Temptation, as a part of “The Biblical Manhood” series for Promise Keepers.
Promise Keepers began as an idea on March 20, 1990 while McCartney, then head football coach for the Colorado Buffaloes, and Dave Wardell, Ph.D. were at a Pueblo, Colorado Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting. As these two were in worship and prayer, a conversation between them caused the football coach to envision his home stadium, Boulder's Folsom Field, filled with men willing to be taught and helped to keep their promises to God to follow Jesus Christ in their marriage life, as well as in their family life and other aspects of living. After more months of prayer, 72 men came together at Boulder Valley Christian Church in Boulder to organize what would be Promise Keepers' first event at University of Colorado's Event Center. 4,200 men attended that first meeting in July, 1991. These first men were encouraged to bring 12 more men to future meetings, and as more men responded to these invitations, the meetings kept growing in attendance.
What Makes a Man?, Promise Keepers' first hardbound book written for the organization, was first published by The Navigators' Navpress publishing arm in 1992 for its first Folsom Field gathering in June of that year. To help get the word out to men about attending this event, Dr. James Dobson had McCartney on his Focus on the Family nationwide radio program that same month. The numbers of those interested in the group increased markedly as a result of that broadcast. This June meeting marked the beginning of Promise Keepers speaking about actively seeking racial and denominational reconciliation among American men—in retrospect, admittedly a work still in progress.
Perhaps Promise Keepers' most publicized event was its Stand in the Gap: A Sacred Assembly of men open-air gathering at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on October 4, 1997. C-SPAN carried the event live in its entirety, and around 1 million men of diverse ethnic and national backgrounds from many if not all of the United States and around the world participated in a six-hour time of prayer and repentance. International media covered the gathering as a lead event of that weekend. Newspapers from all around America and around the world—some as far away as Hong Kong—printed stories about the event.
In recent years the attendance for its large public events in the USA has dropped off, after years of packed attendance at its venues. Promise Keepers has responded by changing strategy, moving to smaller, all-weather meeting places around the United States.
McCartney resigned as president on October 1, 2003 after a personal leave of absence to care for his wife's health which began in the previous March. Thomas S. Fortson, Ph.D., previously the group's executive vice president for administration and operations since 1996, became the group's president and CEO on that same date.