An Indiana megachurch is impacting the lives of incarcerated and troubled individuals through volunteer-run “microsite” campuses established this year inside a local jail, a rehabilitation center, and a local work-release facility.
At least 15 people have come to Christ since the multicampus, nondenominational Emmanuel Church launched campuses in January at Johnson County Jail, Johnson County Community Corrections work-release center and the Theodora House, a Volunteers of America women’s recovery center near downtown Indianapolis.
Rachel Long, the executive pastor of multisites and families and a former developmental therapist, told The Christian Post that Emmanuel Church is also planning to soon launch another microsite campus at Brandon Hall, another Volunteers of America transitional facility in Indianapolis.
“The way that we view it is that they can't come to Christ inside these dark places without someone having the courage to go in,” Long said.
“Personally, it was very hard for me to go in. But what you learn is that these are beings that reflect God and that they were created in His image just the same way that we are. And you start to have a connection with them in a way that allows you to minister to them.”
According to Long, the microsites are different from the average prison ministry in the sense that they try to bring the “Emmanuel experience” into the microsite centers. As part of that experience, the church offers free coffee and breakfast at its microsite services.
At all the microsite facilities except the Johnson County Jail, volunteers from the church’s “impact” team livestream services as they happen at Emmanuel Church’s Greenwood campus.
Following the service, attendees engage in a group discussion led by volunteers to unpack what was said in the sermons given by Pastor Danny Anderson.
At the Johnson County Community Corrections work-release facility, where both men and women are held, two services are held on Sundays: a 9 a.m. service for women and an 11 a.m. service for men.
At Johnson County Jail, however, the services are held on Wednesdays and the prison does not allow the church to stream its services.
“So we actually have volunteers that go in and re-preach Pastor Danny’s sermon,” Long explained, adding that there is usually time for about a 15-minute discussion on the sermon before the service ends.
The church also gives inmates a Bible study printed in a church bulletin that they are allowed to take with them back to their pods to ruminate on each week.
The newest of the Emmanuel Church microsites is the Theodora House, which opened in April. The facility houses women finishing out their incarceration on one side and on the other, houses women recovering from an addiction and their children.
“The thing that is most inspiring to me as a pastor is each one of those [microsites] is completely run by our impact team,” Long said.
The impact team consists of about 25 church volunteers who go through training once per month on “Impact Night” to be equipped to go into the microsites to share the Gospel.
Long said the goal is not only to share the Good News with the people at these centers but also to provide them with a church community they know they will be welcomed at once they are released.
“County jail in Indiana is different than federal or state prison. There aren’t a lot of rehabilitation factors to it,” explained Long. “But we know that if we can get them to come to an Emmanuel campus afterward, we know that we can get them connected in addiction recovery, small groups and people who will walk with them as they either come to Christ or grow in Christ through the heart transformation.”
The ministry is already having a noticeable impact on those who attend the microsite services even though they are only a few months old.
Long said that while 15 attendees of the microsites have given their lives to Christ for the first time, she said countless others have rededicated their lives to Christ.
About 35 inmates on an average Wednesday attend the Johnson County Jail service, while 25 women on average attend services at the Theodora House and an average of 25 people attend services at the Johnson County work-release facility each week, according to Long.
“What we have seen is people who have had victory in Christ, through being incarcerated, and are coming now and wanting to serve,” Long told CP. “We have a young lady who turned herself in to the [Department of Child Services] and [stayed at the] Theodora House. She is a single mom and she works at UPS and she takes care of her girls. And she also has volunteered [to serve at the] microsites.”
Long stressed that as more people are hearing about the work Emmanuel Church is doing through its microsites, the church is increasingly getting requests to set up microsites in other locations.
“We just kept walking through every door that God opened and said yes to what He put in front of us. And that's really is how it happened,” Long said. “We started with an idea for a year-end giving project and it's morphed into something that we never could have expected that it would be.”
Emmanuel Church also runs a fourth microsite campus located on the campus of Purdue University that targets college students. However, that microsite campus is dormant for summer break, Long said.