Pastor Robert Morris of Gateway Church in Dallas, Texas has announced an unconventional location for the church's newest campus: The state's largest prison.
On Sunday, Morris told his congregation, “We have a new campus. And you’re gonna be really surprised.”
He then shared a video revealing that in November, the church launched a new campus at the Coffield Unit in Anderson County, which houses over 4,000 criminal offenders. More than 650 inmates attended the megachurch's first service, and over 500 men made decisions to follow Jesus.
"Gateway has really impacted my life because a lot of us do not have visits, and you guys comin' in here and sharing y'alls love to us has really impacted our life," one of the inmates says in the video.
Morris revealed that Stephen Wilson, an ex-offender who went to seminary school and has been ministering in prisons for years, will serve as the Gateway Coffield campus pastor.
“We welcome you guys and we love you. We are your brothers and sisters in Christ,” Morris said amid applause. “We’re excited that we have a campus there now.”
According to Fox News, the Coffield Campus runs like any other church campus, with inmates serving as greeters, ushers, operating the sound, video, and audio, and leading the worship team.
Over the next two years, the church reportedly plans to open ten prison campuses within 100 miles of existing Gateway campuses. Additionally, there are small groups at every Gateway campus for families of the incarcerated.
“Gateway Prison Ministry is committed to discipling the incarcerated and their families,” notes the church website. “We plant Gateway churches inside prisons and build community within prison walls, so offenders will feel part of the Gateway family. They can experience regular worship and attend Gateway Equip classes centered on discipleship, marriage, and parenting to help prepare them for life after incarceration.”
On Facebook, Samaritan’s Purse CEO Franklin Graham applauded the move and encouraged other churches to follow suit: “Now that’s a great idea—this church is setting a great example for reaching out in Jesus’ Names,” he said. “Lives are being transformed!”
“I challenge churches across America to pray about doing something like this for the prisoners in their area,” he added. “One inmate summed it up—’I never knew that I could feel so free inside prison.’”
Previously, Scott Highberger, a former inmate who now serves as the outreach and prison pastor at Road to Life Church in Michigan City, told The Christian Post that God often uses prison as a place of refinement and transformation for inmates.
“To the outside world, prison is a place for punishment. For me, prison was a place to be alone with God, to begin a recovery process, to be away from negative influences, and to be stripped of everything. I found freedom in prison,” he said.
“What I really preach from the rooftops is that Jesus leaves the 99 for that one,” he continued. “He left those 99 for me and he grabbed ahold of my life in prison. There is hope for that drug addict, the alcoholic, the career criminal, the one that is so far gone that you think they can never be redeemed. Abundant life can be found right there in the jailhouse.”