Promise Keepers, the men's ministry that's one part pep rally, one part revival meeting and one part male bonding, brought music, speakers and a Christian comedy act to Amway Arena this weekend.
About 7,000 men attended the two-day event, which ended Saturday. The theme of the conference, one of seven this summer in various U.S. cities, was "Flood: Energizing Men of Integrity."
Bill Pugh, 46, of Englewood on Florida's west coast, said he has been attending the conferences since 1998 as an adjunct to church, where he sings in the choir. He came with his son and several members of his church.
"It's my once-a-year tuneup," said Pugh, who was wearing a T-shirt that read, "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."
According to Promise Keepers, men's participation in American church life is declining, with women making up 61 percent of congregations. The conferences are a way to get men involved in a setting where they feel comfortable to express and be themselves, organizers said
Thomas Fortson, president and CEO of the Denver-based ministry, said men crave connection with one another but don't relate the way women do. For instance, he said, men hold their feelings in, are confused over the definition of masculinity, are driven by success and hunger for spirituality and a relationship with God and Jesus.
Founded in 1990 by Dave Wardell and Bill McCartney, the former head football coach at the University of Colorado, Promise Keepers has been criticized by women's groups and others as promoting an outdated notion of marriage in which women are subservient. Members, however, say that the group stresses the importance of being a good husband.
That theme was evident Saturday, when Michigan radio host and author Dan Seaborn drew laughs and applause as he spoke about the threat of pornography, discussed the differences between the sexes and urged the crowd to "stay married for life."
"They're preparing us for the future, not to screw up marriage," said Melvin Paizano, 14, who attended with a contingent from Iglesia Bautista Luz Y Verdad of Miami. "Here, they actually teach you something that will help you out your whole life."
The event, one of a handful in Orlando since 2000, also included food donations and a blood drive, and sets by self-described conservative Christian comedian Brad Stine.