Promise Keepers was founded in 1990 by Bill McCartney, then the head football coach at the University of Colorado Boulder.
McCartney got the inspiration for Promise Keepers on March 20, 1990, after converting from Catholicism during a conversation with Dave Wardell, while both were attending a Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet in Pueblo, Colorado. He envisioned his home stadium, Boulder’s Folsom Field, would be used as a gathering “for training and teaching on what it means to be godly men”.
In July 1990, 72 men met at Boulder Valley Christian Church in Boulder to organize what would be Promise Keepers’ first event at University of Colorado’s Event Center. From that point, the Promise Keepers’ membership gradually grew. By the time of the first official PK conference in July 1991, approximately 4200 attended. The organization was incorporated as a nonprofit in the state of Colorado in December 1990.
What Makes a Man?, Promise Keepers’ first hardbound book written for the organization, was published by The Navigators’ Navpress publishing arm in 1992 for its first Folsom Field gathering in June of that year. James Dobson had McCartney on his Focus on the Family nationwide radio program that same month. McCartney resigned his coaching position in 1994 in order to focus his attention on the organization.
Promise Keepers’ most notable 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. Attendance figures vary but have been estimated to be between 600,000 and 800,000.