Cover Story

What went wrong?

The inside story of policy decisions and economic conditions that pushed Promise Keepers to the brink of financial ruin

Issue: "Promise Keepers breakdown," March 21, 1998

Pat Alvarado is the first person often heard or seen during calls or visits to Promise Keepers headquarters in Denver. The cheery single mother has handled the switchboard for nearly two years. She also asks visitors to sign in when they enter the green-carpeted lobby of the modest two-story brick building, located in a low-income neighborhood just northwest of downtown. But she won't be doing that anymore after March 31. At the end of business on that day, pay will cease for all 340-plus employees as PK switches to volunteer staffing, possibly for up to four or five months, to help cope with a financial pinch (WORLD, Feb. 28).

"I love working here, and I'd like to stay, but I need every paycheck," Mrs. Alvarado says. She has lined up work elsewhere.

Seated next to her, helping to handle the phones and reception counter, is Kristine Reinbold, whose husband has a steady job. They have prayed about the matter, she says; they want to "do what God says," and there are only two people in the Reinbold family. She intends to stay on as a volunteer, but hopes the payroll can be reinstated quickly.

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Pain mingled with hope was evident everywhere late last month, from the executive offices upstairs to the downstairs cubicles of conference organizers and support people. Of the 10 mid-level and senior executives interviewed by WORLD, the majority said they are committed to staying as volunteers. Several added they likely would have to secure part-time jobs to make that possible. A few said they and their spouses still are discussing and praying about what to do.

Some workers expect a miraculous turnaround at the nation's largest and best-known men's ministry. Roderick Marable, 38, who attends a Pentecostal church, is one of them. The strapping, good-humored single man has worked in marketing and research for a year. "I'm going to stick it out. The Lord brought me here for a reason," he said. "I believe God is going to do something that will blow off our socks. We'll see unity and support as never before."

The reason no one will get paid is that PK founder and chief executive Bill McCartney, facing news of financial trouble, pledged last November that if one person could not be paid, no one would be paid. In announcing the mass layoff Feb. 18, he and other executives summarized their predicament: Income had been in steady decline for months; expected major donations had not materialized; and no cash flow would be available from the advance $60 registration fees formerly charged the hundreds of thousands of men attending PK's two-day stadium conferences.

Projections showed there would not be enough money to make payroll after March 31. Mr. McCartney, who left a $350,000-a-year job as head football coach at the University of Colorado in 1994 to head PK full-time, said the eight-year-old ministry would have to do what it did in the beginning: Look to volunteers to carry the ball until further notice.

News of the stunning reversal at the once-flush multimillion-dollar ministry made front-page headlines and evening TV newscasts across the country over the next few days. A number of employees interviewed by WORLD recalled what happened the following Sunday in the churches around Denver they attend. They said some of their friends at church embraced them and offered prayers, food, and even future help with bills, if needed.

This month, some churches in and out of Denver reportedly were preparing to send the equivalent of welfare checks to individual staff members to help them survive as volunteers in the months ahead. PK has a policy of not accepting designated funds for staff members, a PK officer said.

The day after he announced the cessation of pay for staff, Mr. McCartney, 57, flew to St. Petersburg, Fla., where he spoke with reporters and addressed a PK regional conference of more than 3,000 clergy. "I'm not discouraged," he said, as he appealed to "every church that names the name of Jesus ... to give Promise Keepers $1,000."

Among those who placed a pledge in the collection plate was Pastor Jeff Wilson of South Community Church in Sarasota. He said he promised to give $2,000, of which $1,000 would be for his own congregation and $500 each on behalf of two smaller churches, including a Hispanic mission that meets at a nearby Baptist church.

Wire services and newspapers reported Mr. McCartney's plea for $1,000 gifts from churches. PK officials said some churches-they would not say how many-responded rapidly. At Melodyland Christian Center in Anaheim, Calif., Pastor Ralph Wilkerson said his church would send a "substantial" gift.

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