AVCF Becomes Campus of Woodmen Valley Chapel
by Dave Bean (prisoner at AVCF)
A little over a year ago our church here at Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility was called the Arkansas Valley Christian Fellowship. Our programs consisted of Sunday morning worship services with a different volunteer preaching on a monthly rotation. We had a regular Monday night Bible study led by Chaplain Larry Walker from the Grace Without Borders ministry. We also had a Tuesday night Bible study that was overseen by some regular volunteers but actually planned and executed by our lay ministers/leaders (inmates) in here. This Tuesday study gave us the opportunity to lead our peers in subjects that we felt were most appropriate for them. These regular Bible studies continue. In addition, we have an occasional weekend seminar.
The only regular weekend activity, other than Sunday worship, was a Saturday afternoon program put on by a faithful volunteer from Woodmen Valley Chapel. We would meet twice a month on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays. The program was listening to a message from the Senior Pastor on DVD and then discussing the message. This program went on for approximately 8-10 years, and the average attendance was 25. Our volunteer, Ron D., was determined to have us personally meet the new Senior Pastor, Josh Lindstrom. It took him several years to get a time on the Pastor’s calendar, but on January 18, 2018 we spent the day in a seminar with the Pastor. It was exciting to meet him and hear his testimony.
About a month later, our volunteer Ron D. came to us and asked us if we (our church) would be interested in becoming a full-fledged campus of Woodmen Valley Chapel. Woodmen Valley Chapel is a 6,000 member multi-campus church in Colorado Springs. At the time of our invitation, they had three campuses on the north end.
We were excited about the invitation to become a campus of such a church, so we prayed about it, met and discussed it, and traded doctrinal statements with Woodmen. At the end of this, we accepted the invitation to become an actual campus of their church. Now please understand, they asked us to become an actual campus of their church. This was not the traditional situation in which a church sends a team into a prison to minister to us.
Our first event to kick-off this new relationship was a yard event in August of 2018. After that we began worshiping “live” with Woodmen on Saturday evenings. The other Woodmen campuses have worship on Saturday evenings, and twice on Sunday mornings. The senior pastor travels from campus to campus and the other campuses are linked in electronically so that all campuses worship together. They asked us which time would be best for us to go “live” via the internet so that we would be worshiping “with” them. Even though they bought the technical equipment for us to worship live and donated the equipment to CDOC, it has not been connected yet. In the interim we are using a DVD and worshiping one week behind the other campuses. Our campus has a full-time pastor, administrator, and coordinator (3 people). So Woodmen has given us similar support that the other campuses have.
Here at our campus we have grown from averaging around 80 in the Saturday evening worship service to around 110 now. Our facility has 1,080 inmates and around 180 of them are in protective custody, so our general population is about 900. In other words, more than 10% of our population is attending the Woodmen worship service regularly.
The other key part of the campus ministries, other than worship, is to conduct weekly Community Groups. These are small groups of people that meet weekly in their neighborhood and discuss the message from the previous week’s worship service. This is the way for people to be plugged into the larger church through a small group. Of the 6,000 members in Colorado Springs, approximately 2,000 attend community groups. We are really excited about what is happening with our Community Groups at this campus. We have a Community Group in every living unit and in every pod. We even have a Community Group that meets in the kitchen on their break time. We are averaging from 80-100 men in Community Groups every week. This is an exciting new phenomenon that we have never had before. Our Community Groups have been meeting since last September and are continuing to be a presence where men live. The number of men attending our Community Groups is nearly the same as the number that attend worship!
In addition to our worship services (8 per week) we are in the final stages of developing a discipleship program, which has been sorely missing in our overall ministry. The discipleship is geared toward consciously mentoring and teaching men in the fundamentals of faith and practice so that we develop a culture of disciples making disciples continuously. WoodmenU is now the biblical education arm of our church, and we have revamped our Tuesday evening Bible Studies with Third Millennium curriculum which has improved the quality and depth of that weekly study. We also recently received approval and support from Woodmen to move forward with our PARADIGMS discipleship program. We are nearly ready to begin a weekly discipleship class on Saturdays that will teach the fundamental disciplines of discipleship that results in living the victorious Christian life. We still have a few more things to collaborate on with our programs department to get this implemented within the facility. However, we are looking forward to having a formal training/discipleship program available to equip men for biblical life and ministry.
Our goal is for this discipleship training on Tuesdays and Saturdays to eventually lead us to developing a group of men that are mature and ready for more leadership training. This is where TUMI comes in. Our concept is that when men master growing as disciples and learning deeper Spiritual principles in these studies, they will progress into advanced leadership class, which is TUMI. We anticipate that our TUMI classes will significantly increase by these men that have grown in their faith to the point of studying and practicing the Christian leadership principles taught in the TUMI curriculum. With all this in mind, TUMI is a vital and important part of our overall ministry here. Admittedly, our TUMI class is small now, but we are working on this long-term plan in which we expect TUMI to grow. TUMI is and will be the capstone leadership course at the height of our ministry and leadership development pyramid.
We are capping off our first year as the Ark Valley Campus of Woodmen with another yard event on August 10, 2019. There is a lot of excitement around here because, unlike last year, we are barbecuing and feeding everyone a hamburger and hot dog. I’m sure your prison experience tells you that this will draw a larger crowd than last year when the snack was chips, cookies, and a drink. Of course, the emphasis is not the food, but it will be great if we can get a lot of unbelievers to this service/yard event.
We hope this report gives you a better idea of what God has been doing here. We are very excited and continually amazed. Thank you for your continued prayers, love, and support for the development of our leaders and church, and for the furtherance of the Kingdom. God bless and keep you!