In 1990 Bill McCartney, head football coach at the University of Colorado, launched Promise Keepers, a stadium-based ministry encouraging men to commit to God, their families, and "Christlike masculinity." Central to its focus were the "Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper." In 1996, PK held 22 stadium rallies with a cumulative attendance of nearly 1.2 million men. However, in 1997, the Denver-based organization had to cut its staff by 20 percent, even as it prepared for the heavily publicized "Stand in the Gap" rally in Washington, D.C., that October. The PK board that fall also removed the $60 entrance fee to stadium events, calling for donations instead. In 1998, McCartney laid off 345 paid staffers, citing financial woes.

McCartney resigned on October 1. McCartney had been on a board-approved leave of absence since March 1 to care for his wife, Lyndi, who has a severe respiratory illness. The PK board then announced Thomas S. Fortson, Jr., 55, as the new president and CEO. Fortson, executive vice president of administration and operations at PK since 1996, received his doctorate in administration and higher education from Michigan State University and worked previously for General Motors. PK, now with 70 full-time and 15 seasonal staff members, expects that about 170,000 men will attend its 17 conferences this year.

CT associate news editor Stan Guthrie interviewed Fortson.

How does Promise Keepers compare now with its early years, and where do you want it to be in five years?

When it first started, we were very entrepreneurial, we were creative in our process, we were exploratory. Some things worked and some things didn't. I think we touched a need. And that was the fact that men wanted to connect.

We tapped on a nerve there ...

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