Most Protestant pastors like to preach in prison, but few have resources to run effective prison ministry, according to a new LifeWay Research study.
About 83 percent of pastors had personally visited prison, but they cited many barriers to setting up formal prison ministries, and jail visits are mainly carried out by individual volunteers and pastors at church.
Almost all of the pastors (97 percent) said that they want to help families of the prisoners and care for ex-inmates who are released back into the world.
However, Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research, said that few pastors were in regular contact with convicts, and that prison ministry was not one of their top priorities.
"When half the pastors haven't had someone from their church sent to jail, then prison ministry isn't on their ministry radar," he said.
Some 31 percent of pastors said that former inmates do not attend their church. But another 36 percent said that they have one or two former inmates in their congregation, and 33 percent of pastors have three or more former inmates in their church.
About 61 percent of pastors minister to families of inmates, and 48 percent said their church members preach in prison or correctional facilities. Some 58 percent provide help to those who leave correctional facilities.
America has the highest number of incarcerated people in the world, with over 2.2 million serving sentences in federal and local prisons currently.
Though other ministries such as volunteering at food pantries and distributing school supplies are easy to initiate, prison ministries are more difficult and require special training, finances, and long-term commitment from volunteers, according to survey results.
As many as 62 percent of pastors say their churches lack training facilities, and 65 percent said they don't have enough volunteers, which prove to be barriers in staring prison ministries. Some 40 percent said that they do not even know where they should start to be involved in it. About 29 percent said that their churches have too many ministries, while 21 percent did not see a need for the ministry.
Lack of finances was also cited as one of the major hurdles in starting the prison ministry, with almost half (48 percent) of the pastors lamenting lack of finances as one of the reasons for not starting prison ministries.
Meanwhile, donations to prison ministries have declined 6 percent between 2014 and 2011, according to a report from Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
"These are messy, long-term ministries," said McConnell. "You really have to demonstrate biblical faithfulness to be involved with them."
Last month, a just-freed inmate was appointed as a pastor at Saddleback's prison ministry, after having served 32 years behind bars for two murders.
Convict Danny Duchene was involved with Saddleback Church for the last several years, and was trained by Pastor John Baker to lead the prison ministry after his release.
"I think the normal prison environment teaches men to be isolated," Duchene told the Orange County Register. "They're separated from their families. They have guilt and shame of their crimes. By hoping for a changed life and not coming back, they find support of other men who want the same thing compared to the normal environment of prison peer pressure to do the wrong thing - to become part of a gang, or take a racist or an anti-authority perspective."