Why NCS Exists: A little bit of history…
A Commitment to “Show Up”. In early 1995, Jim Lane and his friend Eric Metaxas invited pastor Mark Browne to help them start an informal weekly gathering of men to “share life”. Lane knew men needed a safe place to take off their masks, share their challenges, pursue Jesus and develop authentic friendship with each other, because he knew that he needed it: “With every success I had really ever dreamed of professionally, in a lot of other ways my life… my marriage, my kids, my faith were a mess. I was isolated and alone, and when I looked around, I saw a lot of guys like me.”
They invited some friends and began meeting on Friday mornings in the Lane family room in New Canaan, CT. In May of 1995, eight of the men who had begun meeting attended the PromiseKeepers gathering in Washington, D.C. and were inspired to make a commitment to continue “showing up” weekly.
The gatherings were purposely not a Bible study, prayer group, self-help or accountability group—they were envisioned as a place of acceptance and grace where men could connect in true spiritual community. The meetings were meant to be light on “religion” and heavy on relationship and Jesus—fun gatherings done with excellence that would particularly appeal to and serve men who might not attend church and men whose careers and reputations made admitting “challenges” difficult. When Jim Lane delivered a eulogy in 2003 at the funeral of NCS member (and NBC reporter) David Bloom, he described NCS as “about men supporting each other to be better husbands and fathers—men being better men”.
A Foundation of Prayer. The seeds of what would become the New Canaan Society began years before those Friday morning gatherings in 1995. A group of women from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Darien, CT (the site of a revival in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s chronicled in the book Miracle in Darien), began praying that God would move among the men in the neighboring town of New Canaan. That group included the mother-in-law of Jim Lane.
Those faithful women prayed weekly for 15 years before the first Friday morning gathering in 1995, and when those faithful women heard about the men’s meeting, they assigned a woman each Friday to drive by the Lane home and pray. The prayer mantle was picked up in 2005 by a group of NCS spouses who met regularly for the next decade to pray for the movement.
Unexpected Growth. Although the original plan in 1995 was for a small gathering of men, the group grew and began to call itself the “Men’s Friday Group”. They held their first retreat in 1999 at Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, NY with 45 men. In 2000, evangelist Luis Palau was engaged in a campaign called “Mission CT” and asked to speak to the Men’s Friday Group, which had grown to 40-50 men. After his appearance, weekly attendance quickly jumped to 100 and kept increasing.
“New Canaan Society” Emerges and Evolves. In 2001, the Men’s Friday Group formally became the New Canaan Society, incorporated, and in 2002, was granted 501(c)(3) status. It was also 2002 when the credo “Live Pure, Speak Truth, Right Wrong, Follow the King” was adopted (based upon creeds of the Knights of the Roundtable from Idylls of the King by Alfred, Lord Tennyson). The NCS mission statement was formalized in 2007 and, like the credo, remains unchanged.
Jim and Susie Lane hosted Friday NCS gatherings in their home every Friday from September to June for nearly nine years. As the group grew and Friday mornings evolved from a small group gathering to a larger group meeting, Eric Metaxas made men laugh as the weekly emcee, Jim’s long-time friend Rev. B.J. Weber served men as the group’s unofficial chaplain, and Young Life leader Mac McNally regularly added to the humor in the beloved persona of “Skip Bowlinski”.
By 2004, NCS (having grown to 200 men meeting weekly with a worship band and speakers being flown in from across the country) moved out of the Lane home. That same year, the first Energy Groups began meeting to recapture the intimacy of the original small group gatherings. Annual retreats continued to grow, with 2007 bringing 750 men to Washington, DC to hear Tim Keller and Rick Warren. Just as Energy Groups emerged as a way to recapture the intimacy of the early days in the Lane home, the first regional retreat was held in 2013 to recapture the intimacy of the early Mohonk Mountain House gatherings.
The Organic Growth of Chapters. In 2003, a group of men who knew about NCS organically began meeting in Orlando, FL, and became the first NCS “chapter”. They were followed in 2005 by a group in Winston-Salem, NC and then a group in Bergen County, NJ. NCS groups continued to develop across the United States, always organically when a group of men familiar with the NCS model felt “called” to bring NCS to their community. Chapters have always been encouraged to find a meeting format and Chapter activities that best promote the mission and purpose of NCS among its members—a wide highway with the NCS mission and distinctive culture forming the guardrails.
In 2009, NCS was formally transformed into a national umbrella organization, and following the advice of Rick Warren to make Chapter formation as “add water and stir” as possible, a new chapter structure was put in place together with a group tax exemption from the IRS. At the same time, NCS’s chapter operations were taken over in the New Canaan area by NCS New Canaan and in New York City by NCS Manhattan as the first official “chapters” under a new national chapter structure.
The NCS “Constants” Throughout Growth and Evolution. Even as NCS has grown and evolved, the distinctives of the NCS culture have remained the same: excellence, humor, transparency, authenticity, grace, safety, irreverence (not taking ourselves too seriously), fun, non-denominational and attractive to men. As in 1995, the only requirement for membership is a willingness to “show up”. There have never been dues for membership, and each chapter is volunteer-led and self-supporting through the contributions of its men. NCS remains unallied with any sect, denomination or politics, and all men are welcome. The credo and mission remain constant.
Like the Men’s Friday Group, NCS continues to be about men meeting in the spirit of Jesus and, through friendship, helping each other become the husbands, fathers, leaders and men God intended them to be. It is about living life together in the pursuit of Jesus and authentic interaction and having fun along the way. All of this begins in the NCS community, but it soon spills over into the communities where we live and work as we become a faithful presence in every sphere of life.
God’s hand has led to growth, NCS now has over 60 chapters in the US and 3 international chapters. New chapters are starting every year – join us at a chapter near you.