October 2016 – LifeWay Research surveyed 1,000 Protestant senior pastors about the role of prison ministry within their congregations. While 83% have visited a correctional facility at some point, and 97% believe churches should help prisoners and their families, very few actually have active prison ministries. Common barriers include the lack of volunteers, training, and finances.
About one-third of pastors (31 %) reported that their church has no former inmates in attendance, and 36% stated that their congregation includes just one or two former inmates. The remaining 33% have three or more former inmates in their church.
According to the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, U.S. incarceration rates remain at record highs with more than 2.2 million Americans in prison or jail.
“The mission field is in your backyard,” said Karen Swanson, director of the Institute for Prison Ministries at Wheaton College. “Almost every county has a jail. And almost all prisoners are going to return home.”