Christ’s disciples are called to serve the least of these. But that may not include the least of those in prison and jails, a new study finds.
LifeWay Research surveyed 1,000 Protestant senior pastors and found that most of them — 83 percent — have visited a correctional facility and nearly all of them believe churches should be helping families of those behind bars. And 95 percent said churches should offer help to those being released.
Should, but often don’t.
LifeWay learned that “churches often lack the training or finances to run an effective prison ministry,” the Nashville-based organization reported. “So instead, the work is primarily done informally by individuals in the congregation.”
Meanwhile, many of the pastors said they have little or no contact with former inmates. A third said former inmates do not attend their church.
So prison ministry isn’t a priority, LifeWay’s Scott McConnell said.
“When half of the pastors haven’t had someone from their church sent to jail, then prison ministry isn’t on their ministry radar,” McConnell said in the LifeWay online report.
The study also found varying attitudes about incarceration among pastors, including a nearly even divide on whether the rapid growth of inmate populations is unjust.
That breakdown was partially racial: 78 percent of African-American pastors said that population growth is unjust.
There were also denominational factors. LifeWay found that 67 percent of Methodist and 72 percent of Presbyterian/Reformed ministers agree the rise in inmate populations is unjust. Meanwhile, only 34 percent of Baptist, 43 percent of Pentecostals, 40 percent of Church of Christ and 56 percent of Lutheran pastors agreed with that statement.