Something is happening in prisons across Alabama, and it’s catching the attention of pastors and politicians around the country. Prison ministry in Alabama is being transformed, and the result is a notable shift in prison culture. The concept of planting church campuses inside prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities has proven to not only connect inmates to Jesus, but also to the Body of Christ.
Traditionally, correctional ministry has been lead by volunteers who preach and teach and rotate in and out once a month. People with a heart for this ministry may have some support form their local church, but historically, churches have not devoted full time staff, funding, and training to their prison volunteers. As a result, consistency and connection had been difficult to maintain. While prisoners could attend a church service, they didn’t have a relationship with the church beyond that.
This began to change when a local, Birmingham pastor had the idea to plant a church inside the Bibb County Correctional Facility. Randy Walker had been working with a small group of men there and saw that the consistency was making a difference in these men’s lives. Using the campus model already being used by Church of the Highlands, the first prison campus was launched.
The Alabama Department of Corrections has now opened all state prisons to the church campus model.
A church campus inside prison means that inmates experience the same things that thousands of other church members experience each week. They hear the messages, can volunteer, join prayer teams, submit prayer requests, get church news, and participate in church conferences. And the ministry doesn’t end there with the men and women behind bars. Many prisoners will connect with Church of the Highlands in prison and then reach out to their family members on the outside, pointing their spouses and children to God-centered events. As a result, many extended families experience church and encounter Jesus for the first time. In addition, a church campus in prison gives leaders the opportunity to minister not only the needs of the incarcerated, but also to the staff on a regular basis as well.
Today, this model of the prison campus is spreading. In Alabama, there are currently 15 prisons with their own satilit campus in addition to 4 juvenile facilities and 1 county jail. Through ARC and the GROW network, several churches across the country have now received the training to launch prison campuses. In addition, teams from Mississippi, Texam, Tennessee, Ohio, and Florida have begun put the concept into practice to transform prison ministry in their states. This model is proving to be one the whole country can use.
The result of connecting with a church family has created a culture shift inside the prisons of Alabama that is recognized by leaders and legislators alike. The Alabama Department of Corrections has now opened all state prisons to this campus model. Leaders and legislators recognize the value to reshaping the culture of prison and the impact being involved with a local church makes in the lives of incarcerated men and women.