Prisons Adopt Purpose-Driven Model

( [email protected] ) Jun 12, 2004 05:55 PM EDT

The first prison to adopt the Purpose-Driven church model recently completed a 40-day Christian worship program as outlined in Rick Warren¡¯s ¡°The Purpose-Driven Life.¡± Some praise the program, saying that prison behavior has improved since the program began while some critics say the megachurch phenomenon associated with the Purpose-Driven Life programs only preach the model and not the message.

Sierra Conservation Center, the California prison which allowed the Purpose-Driven model to minister to prison inmates along with other ministries, plan to add a Christian substance-abuse treatment program based on another Saddleback curriculum called Celebrate Recovery.

Hector Lozano, the prison's substance abuse administrator, told The New York Times that since the first 40 Days of Purpose program last year, there had been fewer fights, which he attributed to both the guards and the ministry. Lozano noted that while the guard managed behavior well, the ministry influenced change in inmate behavior.

Proof that the program was having an impact on inmates¡¯ behavior is evident in the decrease of prison lockdowns. "We couldn't stay off lockdown for more than two weeks,¡± said Lozano. However, since the program was implemented, ¡°we've only been on lockdown once. The ministry has softened the tensions between the adversarial groups in the yard."

Inmates who finish the 12-step method drug program can qualify for an early furlough or release to a halfway house. Although furloughs have been available through secular addiction programs, according to Terry Thornton, spokeswoman for California Department of Corrections, Celebrate Recovery is the first religious program accredited in this way.

Next month the Celebrate Recovery program will get its own building in the prison, a 200-bed therapeutic community comparable to the prison's secular recovery building.

Some civil libertarians expressed concern that the program amounts to a government sponsorship of a religion but the California Department of Corrections said that since a comparable non-Christian alternative was available, it met the standards for separation of church and state.

Warren is leading pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif., which has up to 20,000 service attendants on Sundays. The model outlined in his book, which organizes life into five spiritual purposes: to worship, cultivate community, become Christ-like, serve God and evangelize, has been used by many churches to increase their membership. In his book, Warren applies business principles and terms to developing the church.

"He's a brilliant marketer of ideas," said Chap Clark, a professor of youth, family and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Ca.

A professor who has studied the megachurch phenomenon doesn¡¯t buy the model.

"The churches resemble shopping malls, with services for everyone," Brad Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia told to The New York Times. "They draw on the methods of McDonald's or Taco Bell, spreading not just the message but the model."

Wardens around the country have expressed interest in 40 Days worship program or Celebrate Recovery programs, according to Warren, who expects more prisons to adopt the programs.