Almost all evangelical leaders (95 percent) have visited a prison, according to the June Evangelical Leaders Survey. Several have been involved in regular ministry to prisoners.
“I knew that evangelicals were engaged in prison ministry, but I was surprised to see just how many leaders have been personally involved,” said Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). “It demonstrates the evangelical conviction that God offers redemption and reconciliation to all, regardless of what they have done.”
Many leaders talked about how their ministry in prisons came out of their roles as pastors – whether it was visiting family members of those from their church, speaking at prison chapels, or overseeing their church’s prison outreach program.
“Prison ministry is a wide open door for powerful ministry,” said Bill Lenz, Senior Pastor of Christ the Rock Church, in Menasha, Wis., who visited individual inmates and regularly spoke at prison chapels. Another pastor, John Jenkins, shared that his church, First Baptist Church of Glenarden, has a prison ministry serving several facilities, and he visits some of them annually.
Leaders also mentioned visiting prisons through different parachurch organizations including Match 2, Cru (formerly named Campus Crusade for Christ) and Prison Fellowship.
While evangelicals are active in prison ministry, there is still much to be done in the areas of prevention, rehabilitation, reconciliation, restitution and reform. Kevin McBride, Pastor of Raymond Baptist Church, in Raymond, N.H., said that for some visiting a prison is easier than follow-up afterward. “We need strong aftercare ministries as well,” he said.
Gabriel Salguero, President of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, said that because there is a high percentage of young Hispanic inmates, his members are deeply involved in both prison ministries and prison reform.
The NAE has been involved in several prison reform efforts addressing overcrowding, unfair sentencing, prison rape, solitary confinement and overpriced phone rates. Recently NAE Vice President Galen Carey joined other Christian leaders in support of a sentencing reform effort led by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL).
Anderson said, “When Jesus told us that we must care for ‘the least of these,’ he specifically included prisoners. That’s why evangelicals care.”
The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly poll of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. They include the CEOs of denominations and representatives of a broad array of evangelical organizations including missions, universities, publishers and churches.