Gateway Church Pastor Robert Morris made an announcement to his Southlake, Texas congregation that took everyone by surprise. Morris told the audience about the church's newest campus site located in the Lone Star state's largest prison.
As the audience rose to give a standing ovation, Morris turned to the screen and said, "We welcome you guys!"
The Gateway Church Coffield Prison Campus launched at the end of November last year with more than 300 in attendance.
"We've seen 500 salvations since our launch. I hope you'll join me in praying for our newest campus," Morris wrote on his Facebook page.
The Coffield prison unit, located an hour and a half outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area, houses more than 4,000 inmates. Up to 2,000 minimum security inmates can attend services if they choose. Medium security inmates can only attend services on special occasions. However, like those in maximum security, they will regularly receive materials from the Gateway Church, including a church magazine, devotionals, and books, including Morris' best-seller, The Blessed Life.
"At Gateway Church, we're all about people because God is all about people," Morris, the lead senior pastor of Gateway, told Fox News. "Many of the men and women inside prison have been forgotten by society, but we want them to know we love them and God loves them, and they are our brothers and sisters in Christ."
Morris also announced that Stephen Wilson, himself a former inmate, who has been ministering in prisons for several years, will be the Gateway Coffield campus pastor.
"My first meeting to launch a Gateway Prison Campus happened seven years ago," Wilson said. "We've been praying for this for seven years."
The church reports the prison campus will be staffed entirely by inmate volunteers, who will fill the same positions that can be found in any other church worship service. Inmates will serve as greeters, ushers, operate multimedia equipment, and also on the worship team.
Evangelist Franklin Graham took note of Gateway's ministry, writing in a Facebook post:
"On this #SuperBowl Sunday, a church will be meeting somewhere you might not expect—in a Texas maximum security prison! Gateway Church and my good friend Pastor Robert Morris has opened their newest church campus at the Coffield Unit, which has a prisoner population of over 4,000. Now that's a great idea—this church is setting a great example for reaching out in Jesus' Names. Lives are being transformed! More than 500 have already put their faith in Christ. I challenge churches across America to pray about doing something like this for the prisoners in their area. One inmate summed it up—"I never knew that I could feel so free inside prison." Let's encourage them in the comments below."
Watch Pastor Morris' announcement in this short video about Gateway's new prison campus.