Imagine millions of men praying daily for their wives and children, dedicating their time and money to churches, committing themselves to overcoming racial and religious differences.
That is the vision of Promise Keepers, a 4-year-old Christian men's organization that began with 72 members and now numbers at least 200,000 nationwide.
Promise Keepers was founded by University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney to encourage men to be better Christians. Its growth has been sparked primarily through annual conferences in Boulder, Colo., where participants sing hymns and join in small prayer groups.
The first meeting in 1991 drew 4,200 men; in 1992, 22,000 attended; last year, 50,000 showed up.
Promise Keepers has scheduled conferences this year in Anaheim, Calif.; Boise, Idaho; Indianapolis; Denton, Texas; Portland, Ore., and Boulder, expected to attract more than 200,000, according to Chad Hammond, the group's Texas director. The Texas conference on June 11 drew more than 42,000 men.
By 1998 the organization hopes to draw 1 million men to a national conference in Washington.
The gatherings provide men with the spiritual impetus to transform their lives, said Bob Dietz of Second Baptist Church in Houston, who attended the 1992 and 1993 annual conferences.
By the year 2000, Promise Keepers envisions an annual conference in all 50 states.
The movement is a Christian response to the "crisis in men's identities and the understanding of their roles in recent years," said Bob Agnew, public relations director for the group in Texas.
The Christian movement differs from secular men's movements, in which the emphasis is on the recovery of ancient cultural male roles, Mr. Agnew said. Promise Keepers "helps men to establish their identities as men through biblical roles and proper relationships as prescribed in the Bible," he said.
"For a long time," Mr. Hammond said, "men have felt like their role is pretty much to be breadwinners" but participants come away realizing there is more to life.
Participants pledge to honor Jesus Christ through prayer and worship; to practice moral, ethical and sexual purity; and to build a better marriage and a stronger family through love and biblical values.
A Promise Keeper pledges to support his pastor and to contribute time and money to his church. He also tries to apply Christianity in the workplace and other environments.
Two key promises are to "reach beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity" and to "pursue vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises," said Randy Phillips, Promise Keepers national president.
The promises are not about rules so much as they are about relationships, Mr. Agnew said. "The simple fact is that men don't have many friends of any kind."
Promise Keepers also wants to unite men regardless of their race and denomination.
The Rev. Frank Rush, pastor of Houston Praise and Worship Center, is a black minister who supports the goal of brotherhood.