Effective Prison Evangelism

There is a desperate need for effective evangelism in our jails and prisons today, however, most of the techniques employed by concerned Christians are simply inefficient. This observation is based on personal experience acquired while serving a part of time in all of the past five decades. My intent is not to debunk, or discourage, current ministry efforts but simply to suggest more efficient ministry techniques.

Most ministry efforts seem to focus on the literature or visitation approach. Both these methods can be effective if executed correctly. Unfortunately though, most of the ministries active today use a shotgun technique, in an attempt to reach the unconverted masses, when they should be using the rifle approach and concentrate their efforts on individual targets.

Each year tons of Christian literature floods the prison systems throughout this country. Most of this literature takes the form of inexpensive Bibles, salvation oriented study courses, tracts and personal testimonies. Most of this literature is dumped in the Chaplain’s lap for dispensing or passed out by visiting groups who present programs. Chaplains are usually overwhelmed by the amount of unsolicited literature sent so it ends up in a storeroom to gather dust. Literature passed out by visiting ministries usually ends up decorating the chapel lawn after the meeting adjourns. Needless to say, this is poor stewardship of the funds donated for jail or prison ministry.

Within our institutions, right now, there are Christian inmates who are serious about studying the information of God. Sadly though, there is very little literature obtainable to them which goes beyond the infant stages of spiritual growth. There is an abundance of simple, salvation orientated study courses, representing just about every denomination, but very little information which teaches mature Christian principles relative to an prison life. Without insight, new believers keep babes in Christ or they are led into false doctrines and cultism.

Christian inmates are in need of reference Bibles, adult study courses, reference books and commentaries but the need is just not being met. Too many “prison ministries” are focused upon the number of non-believers they can claim their ministry led to the Lord rather then concentrating on educating inmates who have already made a profession of faith. A well educated, Christian inmate is the most powerful tool obtainable to transform the general prison population in addition their education is often ignored. A ministry beyond the prison walls cannot compete with a Christian inmate who can walk the walk and talk the talk.

Those who donate funds can revolutionize current prison ministry efforts by simply asking a few questions before they open their wallets. Ask to inspect the materials that the ministry is supplying to the inmates. probe the prison ministry’s activities behind bars by talking to your local Chaplain or an inmate who has gone by the system. During one of my many periods of incarceration a pastor friend was appalled to learn that a nationally known prison ministry, who the pastor’s church financially supported for years, had not set foot in the prison once during my five year stay. This was a large institution whose riots and unrest had made national news headlines. A chief mission field for evangelistic efforts in addition no workers in the field. Let me suggest that if a prison ministry’s efforts are minimal your donations might be more effective in other places.

The visitation technique, employed by some ministries, also has its problems. While Christian inmates enjoy programs presented by visiting ministries such programs are discouraged by the prison administration for security reasons. The prison administration is strapped by rules and regulations that limit the content of such programs and attendance cannot be limited to only Christian inmates. consequently, Gospel preaching is disallowed which indicates that Christ Jesus is the only way to salvation and members of the visiting group are unprotected to heckling from the non-believers who came simply to be entertained. Visitors, and music groups, who are not familiar with the harshness of the prison ecosystem may be easily offended so this form of ministry is best left to organizations who specialize in the field.

For the local church, afar more effective ministry effort is to visit your local county jails. This is an important mission field and extremely effective when dealing with first time offenders. At this local level of incarceration the offender begins to realize that he (or she) is standing at a crossroad where society is demanding a change of behavior. This is the perfect opportunity to present the Gospel message and offer a Bible based different lifestyle. Administrative resistance to this missionary effort is minimal and a Bible college degree is not required. Plus, there is an opportunity to help the new believers re-establish themselves in the community by attendance at your local church. What a powerful way to win souls and lower the crime rate in your local community!!!

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