In my decades as a pastor, I saw a lot of things in church, but this was a first.
In the middle of the church auditorium, surrounded by their families and other worshipers, were about 100 prisoners in orange jumpsuits. They are part of a partnership between a county jail and a local congregation. Screened based on their charges and behavior, the jail residents are taught life skills and discipleship in volunteer-led classes, and they earn the opportunity to spend Sunday morning at church before returning to the jail.
When we sang worship songs together, a choir dressed in orange led us. There was conviction in their voices; no one sings about Christ’s forgiveness from the heart quite like those who cannot run from their brokenness. It was powerful, but the best was yet to come.
While in the program, many of the jail’s residents have decided to follow Jesus. They wanted to publicly testify to their new faith, so the pastor who leads the church’s jail ministry appeared in the baptistery and began to baptize one person after another.
“Buried to death in sin,” the pastor said, submerging each person, “and risen to new life in Christ,” he added, drawing him or her out of the water again. Cheers rang out as each new child of God came up dripping and smiling. What a thrill!
This church gets it, I thought. If we want to build safety and community, churches need wider doors—not higher fences. By investing relationally in its local jail residents, this church is giving hope, tools, and a sense of connection to their community. All these things will help the jail residents to lead transformed lives after they serve their time and are released. That’s a vision I pray more churches will get behind!