Nearly unanimous support exists among U.S. Protestant churches for ministry to persons during incarceration and upon their release, but few make it a priority, according to a LifeWay Research survey.

“Eighty-three percent of pastors have visited a correctional facility. And almost all believe churches should help families of those incarcerated (97 percent) and provide care for those getting out of jail (95 percent),” the report noted.

Yet, “few pastors have contact with many inmates or former inmates as a normal part of their ministry,” said Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research. “So prison ministry isn’t a priority.”

When asked to explain the disconnect, respondents noted five barriers: lack of volunteer leaders (65 percent), lack of training for this type of ministry (62 percent), lack of finances (48 percent), don’t know where to start (40 percent), and too many other ministries (29 percent).

“When churches do have a prison ministry, it is often run on an informal basis,” LifeWay noted. “Sixty-one percent of pastors say individual church members minister to families of inmates. Forty-five percent say church members minister in correctional facilities. Fifty-eight percent say church members help those leaving correctional facilities.”

“Through the Door,”’s documentary on faith and prisons, offers a primer for local churches interested in prison ministry.

It highlights key issues facing the criminal justice system, discusses what the Bible says about ministry to prisoners, offers some “dos” and “don’ts,” challenges false and negative narratives, and shares stories about how faith makes a positive difference during incarceration and upon release.

Additional details about the documentary are available here, and a free PDF study guide to facilitate discussion of the film is available here.

The full survey results are available here.

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