“No longer simply the avocation of big-hearted church volunteers, prison ministry has become a sophisticated and competitive business.
The new generation of ministers has moved beyond Bible study to recognize the seductive power of electric bands, celebrities, videotapes and glossy posters to lure captive men and women to God,” reports the Wall Street Journal (Sept. 7). The new enthusiasm for prison ministry is occurring as the US prison population has risen 40 percent over the past six years to about two million. Chuck Colon’s Prison Fellowship Ministries has launched the “glitziest” program, known as Starting Line. The program draws inmates to Christianity with fun, games, and stunts.
The use of satellites and videos are also changing these ministries. The popular black Dallas preacher JD Jacks is beaming his revivals into more than 100 prisons. Muslims are using video, also, as they spruce up old promotional material. One businessman has started to produce “Discover Islam” packets, which features prominent figures, such as Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon, testifying to the truth of Islam. The new involvement of ministries in prison is worrying some officials who try to limit prisoners contact with the outside world.
They fear that some prisoners will use the volunteers to carry contraband or messages outside the prison walls. Meanwhile, Charisma (August) magazine reports that Alpha, an influential British-based ministry, is turning to the prisons. Alpha has exploded throughout much of the world as it introduces many unchurched to Christianity through a format of discussion and basic Christian teachings. In Britain, more than 100 prisons are running the Alpha course.
In the U.S., Governor George Bush has given his approval to launch Alpha in Texas prisons. Alpha conferences are also being organized for prison chaplains. The success of the program in prisons is that it presents Christianity in “digestible portions,” and has a strong follow-up program to prevent backsliding from the faith.
(Charisma, 600 Rhinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746)