Written by: Chris Galanos
The second P in PIPSY stands for Prisoner.
One of our goals at Experience Life early on was to start 10 campuses in 10 years. We were a multi-site church and wanted to try to add a new campus each year to reach out into a new area.
As we were praying about where to plant these various campuses, I saw an article in Forbes magazine that really bothered me. It was published in 2011 & the article was entitled “America’s Most Dangerous Cities.”
I was SHOCKED when my town, Lubbock, TX, was listed as the 6th most dangerous.
How could that be?
They made this list by comparing the total number of violent crimes per 100,000 residents in a city. Lubbock had 808 violent crimes for every 100,000 residents & that’s how we ended up at #6.
I initially thought, “What do they mean by violent crimes? Lubbock isn’t that violent. Is it?”
They defined violent crime as murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery & aggravated assault.
Wow! Lubbock? Really? 808 of those for every 100,000 residents in a year? That’s crazy!
I thought, “This is awful. What’s the solution to this problem?”
I knew the answer. You probably do too.
The only way 808 violent crimes is going to go to 0 is if people’s hearts are changed. Jesus is the one who changes hearts. And he sends out his church to tell people this good news!
I knew we had to do something. Law enforcement could only do so much. Rehab facilities could only do so much. Community organizations could only do so much.
These people need Jesus!
This bothered me so much that I started praying about it regularly & thinking about how we could be part of the solution to this problem.
I reasoned that the only way to solve this problem was to get to know the people who were a part of the problem. We have to get to the people who could likely become part of the 808. We have to connect with the people likely to commit a violent crime to prevent this in the future.
That begged the question, “How do we get to them?”
Then the lights went on.
Many of the people that commit violent crimes, namely the 808, end up in jail for lesser crimes first. Perhaps we could intersect them in the jail. We could meet them at their lowest point, introduce them to Jesus, and provide a community in jail with which they could begin to follow Jesus. Then when they got out of jail for the lesser crime, they’d be far less likely to commit a more violent crime. In fact, as Jesus changes their life, chances are many of them will never commit any kind of crime again. That 808 number could eventually drop to 0.
We knew we needed to get into the jail.
I didn’t have any contacts in the jail so I wasn’t sure how to get in.
I kept praying about it & a few years later I met a guy from the Sheriff’s department after church one Sunday. I asked him what he thought about us starting a church in the jail. An actual Experience Life campus. He said he thought it was a great idea but we’d need to talk to Sam, the chaplain at the jail.
We had lunch with Sam a few times & Sam thought it was a good idea too. There were people doing ministry at the jail & having a Bible study here and there, but to our knowledge, there was not a functioning church in the jail.
Right around this time, Sam told us in one of our meetings that the warden had actually talked to him about wanting to build a baptism tank in the jail. We thought that might be an affirmation of what we sensed God leading us to do.
Everything ended up coming together and in 2014, we launched our first Freedom Campus in the Lubbock County Detention Center. God moved so powerfully through that campus that other jails in the area were asking us to come out & start a Freedom Campus in their facility. Since then we’ve started 2 more Freedom Campuses. One is in a Texas Prison Facility and another one is in a drug rehabilitation facility. Both have seen extraordinary things happen!
If you ask anyone on our staff which campus seems to have borne the most fruit over the years, I think almost everyone would say, “Our Freedom campuses.” So many of the men & women in these facilities are at the lowest point of their lives & this can produce a great deal of spiritual hunger in someone. When you ask them if they want prayer, it seems like everyone wants prayer. When you challenge them to obey Jesus in some way, it seems like everyone wants to obey. When you give them an opportunity to commit their lives to Christ, it seems like everyone wants to make this decision. It’s just amazing to be in there!
I joke with our staff that if I wasn’t the Lead Pastor, I’d want to be a Freedom Campus Pastor. It’s hard to explain the feeling you get when you go in there until you’ve actually been in yourself. It’s totally amazing!
This makes sense because Prisoners are PIPSY & Jesus said when we visit them, we’re visiting him. He’s working in the jail systems all across our country. Will you join him?
After our 10 Year Anniversary & the transition of our church to DMM, we started doing things differently at our Freedom Campuses. Instead of just trying to draw men to a worship service on the weekend, we started casting vision to them & training them to be disciple-makers. Instead of bringing their friends in their pods with them to church, why not “go out among the lost” in their pods & start Discovery Groups? Perhaps those Discovery Groups will become churches & perhaps those churches will catch a vision to go back to some of their rough neighborhoods & make disciples & start churches there too.
It was a complete shift in how we saw our ministry in the jail. Instead of bringing them to us, which wouldn’t be scalable, we wanted to train them & send them out. If we did that, our influence would extend far outside of the jail. Disciples could be made & churches could be started all across the nation when they move back home.
We had such a strong interest in the DMM Training that we recently started 7-8 training groups with guys interested in becoming disciple-makers.
We still have our weekend gatherings, but we’re now using those to find the spiritually hungry men that are willing to start groups.
Greg caught the vision to be a disciple-maker & go through our DMM Training. The first few weeks of the training cover Elements #1 & #2 of the 7 Ongoing Elements in Movements. Element #1 is Focus on God’s Word where you learn to read, obey, share & start new DGs (Discovery Groups) by using the 7-Question DBS Process. Element #2 is Multiply Extraordinary Prayer where you learn to grow in your prayer life and cast vision to others to do the same.
Greg & the others in his training were challenged to go back to their Pods & begin implementing the training. Soon after, Greg and one of the other guys started a DG in Pod 4D. This was done without assistance from us. We trained them & served as their coach but let them do the “work of the ministry” (Eph 4:12).
One Sunday morning in the worship gathering, Greg stood and shared about how the DG was growing & their prayer times as a group were very powerful. He said there was only one problem. They couldn’t seem to keep their group meeting time under 4 hours!
Wow! They’re so hungry, they just can’t get enough of hearing & obeying God’s Word & praying with one another.
Greg’s group meets every single day in that Pod and lives are being transformed.
Greg told us that he was getting out of jail soon but didn’t want to see the group come to an end. He said he had trained two other guys to take the group over. In addition to that, he told us that he planned to start another DG when he left the jail.
Sal is much like Greg.
He attends a DG that was started in his Pod. There are about 6-8 guys in the group. They do the 7-Question DBS Process when they meet in order to read, obey, & share the Bible together. People in that group often talk about how Sal has become a spiritual leader among them. They talk about how he has helped them & how he keeps them on the right track.
Sal has been encouraged in that DG to start new DGs. As a result, he and Isaac, two guys in that 1st Generation DG, started a 2nd Generation DG in their Pod with their cell mates. They gather together, use the DBS Process, and read, obey & share together. Sal has talked about staying connected with our team when he gets out so as to start even more groups with the people in his relational network.
After another Pod had gone through the DMM Training, many of the men started “going out among the lost” in their Pod & trying to figure out how to serve the men there. They were looking for a person of peace that might bridge the gospel to the rest of the Pod & they had learned that one way you find potential PoPs (persons of peace) is by serving people & meeting needs.
To understand what they did, you need a little backstory on life inside of a jail. Obviously the facility feeds them 3 meals a day, but anything in between those meals, like snacks, have to be purchased by the inmates. The way they get the money to purchase those items is through family members & friends putting money on their “books.” When they do this, they’re able to purchase commissary items. Commissary items are highly treasured in the jail.
Around Thanksgiving & Christmas, the men knew that many of the guys in the Pods didn’t have money on their “books” to buy something special to eat for those holidays.
As a result, the guys that went through the DMM Training pooled their money together & bought commissary items to feed the entire Pod of 64 men. They were able to share these specialty items with their Pod & pray over all of them. They used the miracle question to pray for people. The miracle question is: “If God could do a miracle in your life, what would you have him do?” Then they prayed for these guys. If God answers that prayer, the person they prayed for would know it’s a miracle.
As the men get out of the jail, we invite them to a transition group to help them get back on their feet again. It originally met in the house of the Freedom Campus Pastor but now it meets in the lobby of a hotel. This hotel has a reputation for being the largest dope & prostitution house in Lubbock. Many of those guys had been there before for the wrong reasons. Now they meet there to read God’s Word, pray together, and share with the people who happen to be there.
They regularly baptize people in the hotel swimming pool & the new General Manager has given them free reign at the hotel because he believes in the vision. In fact, when our team originally asked him if we could meet in that hotel & baptize people that followed Christ, he said, “Yes, you definitely can, but only if you’ll baptize me first.” Wow!
As you can tell, Jesus is working in the jail. That shouldn’t surprise us, though. He told us when we visit the prisoner, we’re visiting him. Will you join him?
Part 4 – Sick