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On Faith

Grass-Roots Men's Ministries Growing

Promise Keepers' Success Spurred Movement in Churches

By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 6, 2005; Page C01

On Faith appears the first Sunday of each month.

In the 1990s, Marty Granger was swept up in the fast-growing Christian evangelical men's movement called Promise Keepers. He helped organize its 1995 event at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium and two years later joined 600,000 men on the Mall for a six-hour revival meeting that was one of the country's largest-ever religious rallies.

At an early-morning men's Bible study at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, Eric Tibbets focuses on a prayer after giving a talk. (James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)

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Today, Promise Keepers' national profile has waned, and Granger has become more deeply involved in grass-roots efforts by churches to aid men's spiritual development. As a founder of the Washington Area Coalition of Men's Ministries, he provides books, speakers, training and encouragement to congregations that want to offer activities designed for men, whether it's a 6 a.m. weekday Bible study or a Saturday morning sports-and-prayer outing.

Granger illustrates a trend that scholars and church activists say accelerated after the Mall rally: Spurred by the example of Promise Keepers, men's ministries based in churches are proliferating.

"Where did all the men go that were on the Mall that day in 1997?" asked Granger. "They essentially went back to their local churches and began to ask the right question: 'What now?' " As a result, he said, "we're seeing much more attention being paid to the needs of men in the local church."

The Mall event, called "Stand in the Gap: A Sacred Assembly of Men," marked the height of Promise Keepers' national prominence. Since then, the Denver-based group has weathered serious financial problems and an identity crisis, emerging as a leaner, lower-profile organization. But the model it provided for men's ministry has endured, experts say.

"It's like when you first light a grill and there's an explosion, but even after the fire dies down, the coals burn hot," said Robert Andrescik, editor of New Man, an Orlando-based evangelical Christian magazine. "That's what is happening in the Christian men's movement these days. You don't see the flame so much anymore, but the coals are still burning hot."

This is evident at area churches, especially evangelical ones, where the staff often includes a "men's pastor," and "men's ministries" encompass a range of activities.

At Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, for example, which sent about 500 men to "Stand in the Gap," men's activities are a priority. Every Thursday at 6 a.m., "Reveille" draws about 100 men for an hour of biblically infused discussion. There's also "the MOB," or "the Men of the Bible," a Tuesday night Bible study. And once a month, "God's Weekend Warriors" gather for breakfast, prayer and two hours of good works, be it volunteering at a homeless shelter or rebuilding a charity's warehouse.

Promise Keepers also was a catalyst for the National Coalition of Men's Ministries, an association of nearly 100 groups devoted to making churches "relevant to men," according to coalition spokesman Brett Clemmer.

But although men's ministries have multiplied, more are needed, some area pastors say.

"Men are very confused today about what it means to be a man," said Burke Community Church senior pastor Jack Elwood. "While women are encouraged to be all you can be, men don't know what they want to be. . . . Are they supposed to be a helper or a leader?"

Men's ministries "help men come up with a vision . . . that's bigger than just get a paycheck, go through life, get married, have kids and die," Elwood said. "A lot of men . . . wake up in their forties and say, 'Is this all there is?' I've been ministering to men for 30 years. . . . This is more and more evident to me as a pastor."

Men's attendance at church has been dropping in recent years, a trend that worries church leaders because "studies show that children come to church in higher numbers when their fathers are involved," said the Rev. Henry G. Brinton, senior pastor at Fairfax Presbyterian Church.

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