You Came Unto Me

A Training Manual For Jail And Prison Ministry
Jesus said, “I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.” —Matthew 25:43


Starting A Prison Ministry


But this is a people robbed and plundered; all of them are snared in holes, and they are hidden in prison houses; they are for prey, and no one delivers; for plunder, and no one says, “Restore!” (Isaiah 42:22)


Upon conclusion of this chapter you will be able to:

            ∙          Summarize the steps for starting a prison ministry.

            ∙          Identify various types of ministries which you might provide in an institution.

            ∙          Prepare and submit a proposal for prison ministry.

            ∙          Recruit and train volunteers.


You are convinced. The Biblical mandate and example are clear. As a believer, you want to be involved in prison ministry. But how do you start? How do you gain access to the prison? This chapter details steps for starting a jail or prison ministry. You will learn various types of ministries which you might provide in an institution, how to prepare and submit a proposal for your program, and ways to recruit and train volunteers.


Here are seven steps to guide you through the process of starting a jail or prison ministry.


All things are fueled by prayer. Pray about what God wants for the specific institution and your individual role in it. Lay a foundation of prayer before you begin your ministry.

STEP TWO: Consult your spiritual leader

If you are a pastor, consult with your board. If you are a church member, talk with your pastor. This is important for several reasons:

            ∙          It is common courtesy.

            ∙          Spiritual leaders can guide and provide valuable input to you.

            ∙          Your spiritual leader may already have plans underway for such a ministry.

                        If so, be part of it, don’t undermine it.

Try to gain the interest and support of your pastor or spiritual leader. This support is vital to obtaining volunteers to staff the program. The key will be in showing your pastor how this ministry works cooperatively with other programs, ministries, and services of the church. Share how this Scripturally mandated outreach advances the Gospel by putting church members to work both inside and outside institutions.

STEP THREE: Do an analysis

Here are some questions to answer in your analysis:

            ∙          What jails and prisons are in your immediate area?

            ∙          Is there a local ministerial association? What are they doing, if anything? Are they interested in jail and prison ministry? (If they already have a program and have gained access to local institutions, perhaps you can be part of it.)

            ∙          Who is in charge of volunteers at the institution? Contact them and find out:

            ∙          How do you get cleared for ministry inside the institution.

            ∙          Are there forms you need to fill out?

            ∙          Is there special training you must take?

            ∙          What identification do you need for clearance?

            ∙          What needs exist in their institution?

            ∙          What needs can you and/or your church fill? Try not to duplicate efforts of other Christian organizations.
We should complement, not compete with one another.

            ∙          Familiarize yourself with all the rehabilitation programs offered in local institutions where you wish to serve, as well as the population breakdown (races, religions, ages, sex, etc.) and, if possible, the philosophy of the respective administrations. Gain as much knowledge as you can about the institution before requesting permission to provide services and/or programs. If you know administrators, officers, or former inmates, talk to them about the needs and conditions.

           Possible activities and services you can provide an institution include:

                                                ∙          Conducting regular church services.

                                                ∙          Substituting for the chaplain when he is ill or on vacation.

                                                ∙          Providing special musical or dramatic programs.

                                                ∙          Conducting Bible studies.

                                                ∙          Teaching classes in a specific skill, trade, or in personal


                                                ∙          Conducting a Christian group for those with addictions.

                                                ∙          Distributing literature and Bibles.

                                                ∙          Hosting a Christian film night.

                                                ∙          Providing individualized services in addition to your group program:

                                                            ∙          Providing Bible correspondence courses.

                                                            ∙          Matching inmates with Christian visitors.

                                                            ∙          Matching inmates with Christians to write to them.

                                                            ∙          Providing referral information for families of prisoners.

                                                            ∙          Referring inmates to post-prison release programs.

Note: Before writing this portion of the ministry proposal, you may want to study Chapters Four-Nine of this manual which address various individual and group ministries in which you may desire to become involved.

STEP FOUR: Prepare a program proposal

A proposal will . . .

            ∙          Define purpose, objectives, and practical aspects of your program.

            ∙          Be submitted for approval to the institution where you plan to minister.

            ∙          Be used as a tool for volunteer recruitment. (You must know what type of ministry you will be conducting in order to recruit qualified volunteers.)

Your proposal should consider things like. . .

Goals: What is the purpose of your program? What do you want to accomplish? See Chapter One of this manual for a list of possible goals. Be sure to include your own specific goals also.

          Benefits: How will your program benefit inmates? How will it benefit the institution?

Specifics: Define the specific ministry? Will it be a group ministry? To individual inmates? Their Families? A post-prison ministry?

          Director: Who will head your program? What are his/her qualifications and experience?

          Volunteers: Who will participate in your program? What training will they receive?

          (We suggest using this manual in your training program. That is the purpose for which it was created.)

Facilities: What type of facility will you need at the institution? Do you need to use the prison chapel? A day room? A classroom? A visiting area?

          Days, time: Days and times you would like to meet.

Equipment: Will you need items like an overhead projector, video projector, musical instruments, song books, musical sound tracks? Are these items provided by the institution or will you need to provide them? Will the institution allow you to bring them into the facility? If you plan to prepare handouts for inmates, do you have access to a copy machine?

            Funding: Although most group prison ministries are operated by volunteers, there may

be financial costs incurred--for instance, if you plan on distributing Bibles, books, tracks, or other handouts approved by the institution.

The institution in which you plan to minister may have a special form or format to follow in preparing your proposal. Inquire concerning this. Following is a sample proposal form used by one prison in the United States:

Sample Proposal Form

1. Who will your program be directed towards?

2. Who will have responsibility for your program?

3. What are the objectives of your program?

4. What services does your program offer to inmates?

5. What services does your program offer to the Institution?

6. What specific format will be used to present your program ?

7. What type of theological training/ credentialing/ prison program experience does the

       primary facilitator have?

8. What is the detailed itinerary for your program?

9. What days/hours will your program meet?

10. How many people are involved in your program?

11. How will they be trained?

12. How large an area would you require?

The following information is required to do a background investigation on each person you plan to bring into the institution:

            1) Name

            2) Date of Birth

            3) Driver's License number

            4) Social Security number

Please provide us with references regarding your past prison involvement and/or any other information that characterizes the uniqueness of your ministry.


Here is a sample letter format used for a proposal to an institution:

Your address (on letterhead, if possible)


Their address


We are requesting permission to conduct a prison ministry program at the (Name of institution).

Our program will be directed to the inmate population, but we believe it will also benefit the institutional staff by providing inmates with an opportunity for better use of free time and improvement in inmate morale. It has also been demonstrated that inmates who become true adherents of what the Bible teaches make good citizens of a correctional environment. Their influence positively affects other prisoners and causes them to respect authority and to avoid situations that cause tensions and hostilities between staff and inmates.

Our volunteers will be trained in a prison ministry training course, wherein we will acquaint them with dress and safety codes, institutional and inmate typology, and how to relate to inmates. In our training, emphasis is placed on knowing and enforcing rules and avoiding possible risks to security. Of course, should it be necessary, we shall be pleased to go through any required orientation provided by your staff.

At this time, we are prepared to offer any part or all of the following services:

(Describe in detail the program you plan to offer, using the guidelines given in this chapter).

In the near future, I look forward to talking with you concerning the details of this proposal.

Thank you for your time and all consideration given to this request.

Respectfully submitted,

(Your name)

If you have already successfully conducted prison ministries elsewhere, attach letters of recommendation and/or commendation from jail or prison officials at the institutions where you ministered. If you have received requests from inmates in the institution for the specific program you are offering, attach these to your proposal.

STEP FIVE: Submit your proposal

Submit a copy of your proposal to your pastor or spiritual leader for review, then submit a copy to the chaplain or proper authorities at the prison and wait for their response. They may call you in to meet with them to discuss the proposal. If so, be on time, appropriately dressed, and properly prepared for your appointment. If you do not receive a response to the proposal after a reasonable length of time, take the initiative and call and schedule an appointment yourself with the person to whom it was submitted.

If your request to provide services is denied, try again in a couple of months. This could very well be a test of your commitment, dedication, and patience. Administrators and chaplains also quit, retire, or transfer and someone else may be more favorable to your program.

Note: At present, in the United States it is the responsibility of the institution's administrator to ensure that all residents are able to exercise their constitutional right to practice their religious beliefs. The only way this right can be denied is that substantial justification can be shown to limit or regulate it, (for example, a security breach).

STEP SIX: Secure and train volunteers

After approval of the prison ministry by your pastor and the institution in which you plan to minister, you need to secure volunteers to conduct the program. A volunteer is important. . .

            ∙          To the inmate, as a link to the outside world, a friend, and a model of mature Christian life.

            ∙          To families of inmates, in providing information and practical and spiritual help as they cope with their dilemma.

            ∙          To the chaplain, by as assisting and supporting his programs.

            ∙          To the prison administration, as an additional resource for helping with rehabilitation and transition back into society. The volunteer can provide services the institution cannot provide because of limited staffing and budget.

            ∙          To other volunteers, as a source of encouragement, training, and example to follow.

            ∙          To the local church, as a channel of communication, increasing awareness of the need for jail and prison ministries.

            ∙          To himself, as this ministry provides an opportunity for using his spiritual gifts and putting his faith into action.

There are many ways to obtain volunteers:

            ∙          Put a notice in church bulletins.

            ∙          Make announcement in church services.

            ∙          Recruit at small group meetings.

            ∙          Prepare posters and place them in strategic locations in the church.

            ∙          Plan a “Prison Ministry Day" in the church or churches you plan to involve in the ministry. Have a speaker who is actively involved in prison ministry and include testimonies from former prisoners. Outline the program you plan and announce a meeting (date, time, place) for those who are interested in participating. (In addition to recruiting volunteers, the “Prison Ministry Day” will prepare churches to receive former prisoners into their fellowship.)

In screening volunteers, consider the following:

            ∙          Has the person had prior prison ministry experience?

            ∙          Does the person have any musical talent?

            ∙          What languages do they speak?

            ∙          Do they have the ability to lead a small group?

            ∙          Have they had any personal witnessing experience?

            ∙          What is their spiritual gift? Teaching and counseling are two important gifts for jail and prison ministry.

            ∙          Are they an ex-offender? If so, check to be sure they will be allowed access to the prison.

            ∙          Determine where their interest lies and where they will be most effective:

                        ∙          Writing an inmate?

                        ∙          Visiting an inmate?

                        ∙          Ministry to inmate’s families?

                        ∙          Group ministry inside the prison?

                        ∙          Post-prison ministry? 

You may want to have each potential volunteer complete a form at the first meeting. Use the following form or make your own adaptation of it:

Questionnaire For Volunteers

(All information to be kept in strict confidence)

Name_______________________________________________ Age________ Sex_______

City__________________ State or Province__________ Postal Code______________________

Home Phone (_____)________________ Marital Status: ___Single ___Married

Occupation & Title_________________________ Work Phone (___)___________________

Member of what church? ___________________Located at:__________________________

Please check the area(s) of prison work that you are most interested in. If you check more than one, please number your selections according to preference.

            ___Correspondence/letter writing                  ___Group Bible studies

            ___Providing transportation                           ___Worship service

            ___Follow-up with ex-prisoner                      ___Follow-up with family

            ___Writing to an inmate                                 ___Visiting an inmate one-on-one

Have you ever been arrested? If "yes," list date(s), place(s), charge(s) and disposition(s).


Have you ever been in a mental institution?________ If "yes," when and how long?


Do you have to take medication for any reason?________ If "yes," please explain:


Do you have any experience working with a prisoner(s)?________ If "yes," please explain:


What languages do you speak?


Do you play a musical instrument or sing? If "yes," what?____________________________

Circle group you are interested in: Males Females Juveniles

Signature_____________________________________________ Date_________________

Note: If women are allowed on the volunteer team for a men’s institution, it is important to remember that the highest standards of conduct and dress should be insisted upon. The same is true for men ministering in women’s prisons. When possible, have husband and wife teams. These teams not only prevent difficult situations arising, they add the extra dimension of modeling good husband-wife relationships.

After you secure your volunteers, train them:

            ∙          Review your prison ministry proposal with them.

            ∙          Discuss where they would fit best in the program.

            ∙          Use this manual to train them for jail and prison ministry.

            ∙          Arrange for some orientation to the institution as a first step in developing interest and eliminating those who feel uncomfortable with this type of ministry.

            ∙          Be sure to obtain proper clearances to enter the institution for volunteers.

            ∙          Have your volunteers complete any training required by the chaplain or the administration of the institution in which you will be ministering.

STEP SEVEN: Plan your first meeting or outreach

            ∙          Be sure volunteers are well trained.

            ∙          Be sure everyone is dressed properly for visitation or group outreach at the prison.

            ∙          Check that everyone has the proper identification for entering the facility.

            ∙          There are many different ways a service or group meeting inside the prison can be run. If you discover an effective format, don't hesitate to make it the backbone of your ministry--but don't be afraid to try new ideas and fresh approaches from time to time. See Chapter Six of this manual for guidelines for conducting prison services.

            ∙          Be certain everyone clearly understands their individual role in the ministry: What to do, when, and any time constraints involved.

“Keep reaching out to people inside prisons. There are many people in here like me who love the Lord—or who could be like me—people in whose lives they could make a difference if they will reach out to them. If the Church would see them and embrace them as part of the Body of Christ—disciple and nurture them in the Lord and teach them to disciple others around them—a revival will break out inside these walls.”

Texas Death Row Inmate

Karla Faye Tucker 

February 3, 1998


1. Write the key verse from memory:



2. Summarize the steps for starting a prison ministry discussed in this chapter.




3. What are some various types of ministries which you might provide in an institution?




4. What are some ways to recruit volunteers?




5. What were some suggestions given in this chapter for training volunteers?




(Answers to self-tests are provided at the conclusion of the final chapter of this manual.)