The Christian men’s organization Promise Keepers has been hailed as the most vibrant expression of evangelical Christianity today, but there are indications that the movement may be peaking in its influence, according to observers.
At the annual meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in Toronto last summer, Wheaton College sociologist James Mathieson noted that attendance has been down at recent Promise Keepers conventions around the U.S. The “in-house” explanation for this is that the recent emphasis on racial reconciliation is “not selling well among the white middle-class participants,” Mathieson says.
He cited one recent conference where the announced topic was racial reconciliation. While the original expectation was for 3,000 attendees, only 700 attended.
A report in Christianity Today magazine (Sept. 1) confirms Mathieson’s observations. While from 1990 to 96, PK experienced an explosive growth rate, in 1997, the group’s budget has “come down to earth.” Declining attendance by as much as 25 percent at its 19 major stadium events, the organization’s main income source, has played a role in “streamlining its office staff and moving to a system of regional offices rather than offices in every state.”
PK has decreased its 1997 budget by around $30 million. Another reason attendance may be down is that many who might have attended the convention were planning to go to Stand in the Gap, a national meeting in Washington at which no attendance fee was charged. It is not yet clear whether the high attendance reported at the Washington event will signal a rebounding of the movement.
The drive for reconciliation in Promise Keepers is even meeting obstacles among minorities, reports the Washington Post (Sept. 25). There is wariness among black churches about how sensitive the organization is to African-Americans and how it may affect the black church community.
Black pastors have criticized PK for viewing their presence as tokens, avoiding social and community issues and for not working with such popular leaders as Jesse Jackson. Other minorities, such as Asians and Messianic Jews, have complained that their presence has been ignored in PK’s call for racial reconciliation — a complaint that is now being addressed by the organization’s leadership.