You know about multisites. You may even be familiar with online campuses. But how about church planting in a jail?
“As a leadership team, we felt a burden to serve the forgotten people in our prison system,” says Kurt Ervin, church expansion leader at Central Christian Church (Henderson, Nevada). “But we didn’t want to start another prison ministry. Instead, we wanted to launch a church in a prison.”
Central first created a separate nonprofit organization—God Behind Bars—and met with the chaplain of a local women’s prison.
“We realized we could use the ‘video venue’ strategy and the chaplain could serve as the campus pastor,” he says.
More than 200 women in the prison—almost 25 percent of the total population!—have accepted Christ since the program started.
Central also works with the Custer County Jail in Arapaho, Oklahoma; the administrator visited CCC’s online campus and contacted Ervin about working together. Today that administrator is the campus pastor, and Central streams the service into the jail three times each Sunday morning.
“We set them up with the equipment, and different sections of the jail watch at different times,” Ervin says. “It’s optional, of course, but one ‘pod’ has 100 percent attendance. The guards renamed it ‘The God Pod.’”
But offering services is just the first step; at each location they also create a Celebrate Recovery group, start a small group Bible study, develop life skills training opportunities, and work with prisoners after their release.
“When someone in our program leaves the prison, we meet her at the gate with a ‘fresh start’ kit, including a prepaid cell phone and business clothes,” Ervin says. “We help her find housing and resolve her outstanding warrants.”
Central also created a way for inmates to attend church with their families.
“At www.churchwithinmates.com, the family members can watch the same service at the same time,” Ervin says. “We created fliers so the men can share the Web site, circle the service time they attend, and invite their wife or children to join them.”
Just six weeks into this new program, more than 80 of these family members had logged on.
In 2011, God Behind Bars plans to start churches in two more prisons.
“We want to open 100 of these churches and partner with local churches to handle the aftercare,” Ervin says. “But our prisoners can’t tithe, so we’re 100 percent funded by donations. Now we just need to raise the money.”
Learn more at www.GodBehindBars.com.
Jennifer Taylor, one of Christian Standard’s contributing editors, lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
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