Cornerstone Prison Church Hosts LifeLight Event
Hundreds of men attended an event inside the walls of South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, S.D., featuring Christian speakers, musicians, and BMX bikers.
Cornerstone Prison Church is primarily made up of “inside” members who live in the South Dakota State Penitentiary. Scott Van Voorst, the church’s pastor, added, “There is also a team of outside volunteers and a number of committed leaders who have membership . . . with Cornerstone, while they also are active participants in the churches they attend on Sundays.”
Cornerstone began as a volunteer-led Bible study and grew over several years to become a church plant. The church called a pastor in 2005 and continued to grow, becoming a fully organized Christian Reformed congregation in 2013.
The church’s council includes members both inside and outside the prison, and the church is guided by a board of directors made up of “outside” members. Van Voorst said he would like to see “more committed followers of Christ from regional CRC churches join as commissioned members,” taking on a dual-status membership that is “a pathway to leadership within Cornerstone without giving up the benefits of being a member in a local congregation.”
The ministry at Cornerstone Prison Church includes pastoral care throughout the week provided by the pastor and staff of Cornerstone; a weekly Bible study with acapella hymns, prayer, and small-group time led by volunteers and staff; and a weekly worship service as a congregation.
“Our worship services take place Friday evenings in the chapel,” said Van Voorst. “Inside and outside members, as well as approved visitors, gather in the chapel for a worship service that includes typical CRC church elements but with a unique Cornerstone flavor.”
Liturgical elements such as Scripture readings for God's guidance for holy living, a call to confession, words of assurance, a prayer of confession, and a prayer of God's people are led by a mix of inside worshipers and outside worshipers/volunteers, explained Van Voorst. The praise team is made up of inside men led by a staff worship leader who is also a pastor of another church.
The timing of the Friday worship service allows dual-status members to attend and gives the pastor opportunity to speak at regional partner churches on Sunday mornings, guest preaching and sharing testimonies of the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of Cornerstone members. Each service is focused on sharing the gospel in a way that might resonate with someone who has not attended worship before.
Van Voorst noted, “Cornerstone is all about people finding freedom in Christ while navigating the complexities of incarceration.”
The LifeLight event, held on Aug. 16 and 17 this past summer, was the second such event at the prison, so organizers were familiar with the preparations and potential challenges of bringing the program inside prison walls. Outside participants – including speakers, musicians, the riders and crew of a BMX stunt group, technicians, and more – all needed clearance to enter. Sound, light, stage, and BMX equipment all needed to be shipped in and set up. Funds needed to be raised to support the event. And yet everything came together, and over the course of the event spanning two afternoons and requiring two large units of the prison, over 500 men came to hear the message of Christ.
Professional BMX bikers the Stunt Dudes opened each afternoon session, followed by a time of praise and worship led by a local musician. A pastor who is himself a former inmate shared about the freedom found in Jesus Christ.
Another speaker talked about the difference God can make in our identities when we experience grace, explaining that he once faced significant juvenile charges but encountered God's grace when a local pastor committed to helping him, if the judge would ease the sentencing. “This direct connection to the way we face a judge for our sins, but have an advocate in Jesus Christ, has a special connecting point [for prisoners] . . . at an event where people . . . [come] to talk about eternal freedom,” said Van Voorst.
The event wrapped up with music by the band Remedy Drive, including a final song during which the Stunt Dudes performed.
During and after the event, a number of men asked about giving their lives to the Lord, requested Bibles, or signed up for church services. “Cornerstone continues to cultivate relationships and to respond to those who are spiritually seeking since attending the event,” said Van Voorst. “Reaching out to the prison population, sharing devotional guides, and making copies of God's Word available are a normal part of the weekly ministry of Cornerstone, but the opportunity – in one event – to get hundreds of people together has a way of connecting individuals who otherwise wouldn't come to the chapel or ask for a Bible.”
Acknowledging the work, planning, and cooperation needed to bring the event together, Van Voorst said he doesn’t expect to have events on this scale regularly, but he welcomes groups interested in volunteering an evening to share the message of freedom in Christ through music to connect with the church and to explore possibilities.
Van Voorst concluded, “The apostle Paul described becoming all things to all people so that he might reach some. The Lifelight event was one way the church could present the gospel to a broader audience to reach the ‘some’ whom God would draw to himself.”